Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling

‘I don’t think it looks like a Grim,’ she said flatly.
Professor Trelawney surveyed Hermione with mounting dislike.
‘You’ll forgive me for saying so, my dear, but I perceive  very little aura around you. Very little receptivity to the resonances of the future.’
Seamus Finnigan was tilting his head from side to side.
‘It looks like a Grim if you do this,’ he said, with his eyes almost shut, ‘but it looks more like a donkey from here,’ he said, leaning to the left.
‘When you’ve all finished deciding whether I’m going to die or not!’ said Harry, taking even himself by surprise. Now nobody seemed to want to look at him.

Harry’s back at Hogwarts for year 3. After a long summer with the Dursley’s Harry is ready to return. But just before he heads back Harry sees a large black dog, which as everyone in the wizarding world knows, is a portent of doom! Safely ensconed on the Hogwarts Express Harry first comes across the Dementors, Prisoners of the wizarding prison of Azkaban. Someone has escaped, for the first time ever, and that person is Sirius Black, infamous serial killer and support of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. And he badly wants to find Harry.

Being a new year there is of course a new Defence against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Lupin who teaches Harry how to produce a Patronus, which comes in mighty handy when Dementors are around. There is also two new lessons, divination, the first session of which Professor Trelawney forsee’s Harry’s doom! Hermione is less than impressed but then she has her own secret, as she seems to be spending more hours in lessons than there is in a day. Secondly Hagrid starts teaching care of magical creatures and inadvertently gets a Hippogriff sentenced to death. Oh Hagrid!

As Sirius gets ever closer to Harry, so do the Dementors. Fred and George Weasley help Harry out though by giving him the Marauders Map which helps him get out to Hogsmeade without a signed permission slip, even though it’s dangerous.
Finally though, Sirius and Harry meet, will Sirius be able to complete what he escaped Azkaban to do, or will Harry’s teenage hormones drive him to exact revenge?

The first time I read these, this was my favourite of the first 5 books, I think partly because the Marauders map sounds like the coolest invention ever, and I had a soft spot for Professor Lupin. As with the first two books, Prisoner of Azkaban barrels along at a great pace and continues to expand the world of Harry Potter, while at the same time driving the plot forwards, and after the Dementors are banished from Hogwarts it’s time to reach for the Goblet of fire.

A sudden sound from the corner of Hagrid’s cabin made Harry, Ron and Hermione Whip around. Buckbeak the Hippogriff was lying in the corner, chomping on something that was oozing blood all over the floor.
‘I couldn’ leave him tied up out there in the snow! choked Hagrid. ‘All on his own! At Christmas!’
Harry, Ron and Hermione looked at each other. They had never seen eye to eye with Hagrid about what he called ‘interesting creatures’ and other people called ‘terrifying monsters’. On the other hand, there didn’t seem to be any particular harm in Buckbeak. In fact, by Hagrid’s usual standards, he was positively cute.

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Reef – Consideration

So my first holiday without my parents. A driving trip to the north of France, at a Eurocamp site. One of my mate’s driving him and his girlfriend in his clapped out Vauxhall Chevette and four of us in a Vauxhall Astra. and I definitely wasn’t going to drive, no sir, not in France. After leaving the ferry a journey that was supposed to take a few hours doubled as we got completely lost. The designated driver felt tired, I drove.

Arriving at the campsite at 3 in the morning after 8 hours driving was not the worst thing to happen that holiday, that would come on the way back. But we were there, we were without our parents. The holiday itself was great, I lived in shorts and sun glasses, I ended up driving on all of our excursions, we all got on surprisingly well despite the nocturnal habits of the couple and Grizzly Bear meets a bansaw snoring of someone else.

But one night I felt rough, really rough. I was in bed while the others got ready to go out. One of the guys was playing a Reef album, I have to admit, even know I don’t know what the name of the album is, but Consideration came on, and I fell in love with it, such a beautiful heartfelt song that sunk deep into my soul after just one listen. I have returned to it time and time again throughout my life to help me unwind and contemplate and to pick me up.

It’s slow, languid pace forces you to slow down before it whirls round and round to it’s rousing conclusion, and you know that whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, it’s gonna be alright..

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling

‘Your sons flew that car to Harry’s house and back last night!’ shouted Mrs Weasley. ‘What have you got to say about that, eh?’
‘Did you really?’ said Mr Weasley eagerly. ‘Did it go all right? I – I mean,’ he faltered, as sparks flew from Mrs Weasley’s eye, ‘that-that was very wrong, boys – very wrong indeed …’
‘Let’s leave them to it,’ Ron muttered to Harry, as Mrs Weasley swelled like a bullfrog. ‘Come on, I’ll show you my bedroom.’

So It’s Harry’s second year at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry, which he arrives at via a flying car after some mysterious interference prevents him from taking the Hogwarts Express. But the fun doesn’t begin there, oh no. Back in number 4 Privet Drive, Harry is visited by Dobby, a house elf who wears a pillow case and talks in riddles while hitting himself over the head with a saucepan.

At Hogwarts though as the school year progresses it is revealed that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened once again by the heir of Slytherin, and a fearsome and terrible monster is on the loose petrifying children as well as Mrs Norris, Caretaker Filch’s beloved but universally hated cat.

As Harry, Ron and Hermione, all now firm friends, try to work out what the creature is and how to get into the chamber of secrets, Dumbledore appears to be losing his grip on the school and Lucius Malfoy sees the perfect chance to remove him from Hogwarts.

Luckily, the students have a new Defence against the Dark Art’s teacher. Gilderoy Lockhart! Who’s fearless adventures are set texts for all his students and after reading you can be sure that he is one man you want with you in a tight spot.

Personally I think I would prefer Hagrid, but his love of ridiculously dangerous creatures almost causes grievious harm to Harry, Ron and Fang, and does he have anything to do with the Chamber?

So I remember not really liking this book quite as much as the others, but then as I started reading it I remembered a lot more of it than I did the Philosophers Stone, and once again I was enraptured by Rowling’s world, and longed to be at Hogwarts, my heart sinking at the end when the school year finished and I had to return to the Muggle world.

Ron shook his head, wide-eyed. Hermione, however, clapped a hand to her forehead.
‘Harry – I think I’ve just understood something! I’ve got to go to the library!’
And she sprinted away, up the stairs.
‘What does she understand? said Harry distractedly, still looking around, trying to tell where the voice had come from.
‘Loads more than I do,’ said Ron, shaking his head.
‘But why’s she got to go to the library?’
‘Because that’s what Hermione does,’ said Ron, shrugging.
‘When in doubt, go to the library.’

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Mark Morrison – Return of the Mack

At last! England had it’s own Bad Boy Gangster. Not a rapper admittedly, and he didn’t really do Hip-Hop, and he sung in an unusually high voice, and he was actually born in Germany, and came from Leicester, but he got in trouble with the police! Gangster I tell you, a proper Gangster that Mark Morrison.

I absolutely loved Return of the Mack as soon as I heard it, always danced and sung along as soon as it came on if we were out, and even now my mate says he thinks of me every time he hears it.

I used to go home for lunch at school, and used to get in at about a quarter to one. In 1996 it was Martin Collins on Capital radio at 1pm, and for months every day he would start his show, while I was eating my Pot Noodle, with Return of the Mack or Fast Love by George Michael, both of which were jockeying for the number 1 spot in the charts.

I bought the single, and then bought the album, from which Morrison had five Top 10 singles, the first artist in British pop history to do so. But the album wasn’t quite as good as Return of the Mack. After a few years, for some reason I felt the song was mine, and during a particularly difficult time I promised myself I would never play the whole original version until I was 100% happy, and I still haven’t played it yet (including searching for the video for this post).

I have listened to the remixes though, and at the Funky Fish in Brighton on New Years Eve it soundtracked my entrance into the club, which brought a huge smile to my face, and kicked off a great night and filled me with optimism for the coming year, so hopefully it won’t be much longer before the Mack returns.

 

Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone – J.K. Rowling

‘STOP! I FORBID YOU!’ yelled Uncle Vernon in panic.
Aunt Petunia gave a gasp of horror.
‘Ah, go boil yer heads, both of yeh,’ said Hagrid. ‘Harry – yer a wizard.’
There was silence inside the hut. Only the sea and the whistling wind could be heard.
‘I’m a what?’ gasped Harry.
‘A wizard, o’course.’ said Hagrid, sitting back down on the sofa, which groaned and sank even lower, ‘an’ a thumpin’ good’un, I’d say, once yeh’ve been trained up a bit. With a mum an’ dad like yours, what else would yeh be? An’ I reckon it’s about’ time yeh read yer letter.’

Harry Potter. Dumbledore. He-who-must-not-be-named. Quidditch. Muggles.
I’m back at Hogwarts. I have read the first 5 or 6 Harry Potters, I think, I know I definitely haven’t read the last one, but I have seen all the films. So despite the fact that I have 3 more books on my shelf that I need to read, now that I am the proud owner of the entire Harry Potter collection, with children’s covers, I’m going to read them all. If you’re not a Harry Potter fan, then it’s probably just the music posts for the next few months for you.

Starting again, at the beginning I quickly realised one thing, that these are primarily aimed at children, I don’t remember that as much from the first time I read it, but Rowling’s prose is very much aimed at the younger reader, or maybe it’s just the first few books. It didn’t really matter, it’s a beautifully easy read, and is still very funny in places. Then when the danger comes it still has the ability to hook you in.

So, basically Harry Potter is a wizard! who survived after his parents were killed by a big bad wizard whose name should not be mentioned. After spending the first 10 years of his life with his awful aunt and uncle, Hagrid, a half giant reveals to Harry what he is, and that he is enrolled into Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry, the foremost such place in the world. Thus Harry plunges headfirst into the wonderful world of wizardry. transfiguration, potions, defence against the dark arts (which, as you can guess, will come in quite useful), the wizard game of quidditch with it’s snitch and bludgers. As Harry completes his first year, complete with bullies (boo! Malfoy) and exams, he learns that something very important is hidden at Hogwarts, and someone is desperate to find it.

But what Harry Potter ultimately is, is a great story, and it casts a spell over your imagination that is a joy to experience. I want to be a wizard while reading this. Although I’m too old to go school, I would love to enrol at Hogwarts, wander down Diagon Alley and catch the Hogwarts express. After seeing the films you tend to picture the actors while you are reading, and indeed the school and even the games of quidditch, but even if you haven’t seen the films, you will still have an imagination filled with wands, Bertie Bots every flavour beans, potions and the odd invisibility cloak.

The story, which only starts here, is a classic good versus evil romp where even though I’ve read it before, and I know ultimately what happens, it does not detract at all from the pleasure of reading it. In fact there was a point when Harry first arrives at Hogwarts that set the cogs in my whirring until I had worked out the ending of this book, but there was plenty I’d forgotten. And one of the things I’m looking forward to this time around is by reading the books one after the other, I can keep tabs on the characters and story.

So after finding the philosophers stone, I’ve locked myself in the chamber of secrets with a packet of chocolate frogs.

Harry stood up.
‘Sir-Professor Dumbledore? Can I ask you something?’
‘Obviously, you’ve just done so.’ Dumbledore smiled. ‘You may ask me one more thing, however.’
‘What do you see when you look in the Mirror?’
‘I? I see myself holding a pair of thick, woollen socks.’
Harry stared.
‘One can never have enough socks,’ said Dumbledore.
‘Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.’

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Prince – Raspberry Beret

When Doves Cry (the first Prince song I ever heard), 1999, Nothing Compares 2 U, Purple Rain, The Beautiful Ones, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, Diamonds and Pearls, Money Don’t Matter 2 Nite, Kiss, I Feel For You, Little Red Corvette, If I Was Your Girlfriend, where do you start with Prince?

I will admit to shedding a few tears when I learnt of his death last year, a man whose songs I lost myself in, who was capable of moments of extreme musical genius and still at times of decidedly average music, and yet he still effortlessly wrote and performed rock, soul, love soaked ballads and sex drenched funk, a little hip-hop, a touch of jazz and a whole lot of purpleness.

I first heard him on the radio, got deeper into him via his greatest hits albums, just as he ditched Prince and came back as Symbol, or the more keyboard friendly TAFKAP. I was hooked just from The Hits 1, Let’s Go Crazy, Adore, Alphabet Street, Pink Cashmere, Sign Of The Times, pretty much every song was great. The Hits 2 contained more of the same, but from that I bought The Gold Experience when it was released, preceded by the pop ballady Most Beautiful Girl in the World. This album absolutely cemented Prince into my life. P Control, Shhh, Endorphin Machine, We March, Now, 319, Eye Hate  You, the uplifting ttle track, the funk busting Billy Jack Bitch and the electric soulfulness of Shy, it still ranks as one of my favourite albums ever. I listened to it over and over again, I threw almost every song onto one home made mix tape or another for my car.

From Gold Experience on I bought every album he released (that I could find out about) while slowly gathering his back catalogue. For some reason I instinctively knew there was a hidden track on New Power Soul, Wasted Kisses, probably the best track on the album, and after listening to The Vault, I wondered just how amazing he would be if he turned his hand to jazz. The Rainbow Children started in that direction but by then Prince had become a Jehovah’s Witness and the sweaty sex driven funk had become diluted. I listened to his later stuff, but didn’t get into it so much, completely missed the album released in the Daily Mail and just raved about the show I was lucky enough to go to as part of his 21 nights at the O2 in London.

So why Raspberry Beret? Mostly because it was one of my early favourites, and because I used to tape songs of the radio and I remember taping it on what would become my favourite tape. It always reminds me of summer and showcases Prince’s playful side
“busy doin’ somethin’ pretty close to nuthin’, but different than the day before …That’s when I saw her, ooh yeah I saw her she walked in through the out door..”

Since he was so hot on the ownership rights of his music (and rightly so) it’s actually fairly difficult to find his songs with audio on youtube or soundcloud, so I’m posting the links to the mixtapes I did in tribute, the 2nd one contains Raspberry Beret.

 

 

SPQR – A History of Rome – Mary Beard

For his First Catilinarian speech, and especially for it’s famous first line (‘How long, Catiline, will you go on abusing our patience?’), still lurks in twenty-first century political rhetoric, is plastered on modern political banners and is fitted conveniently into the 140 characters of a tweet. All you need do is insert the name of your particular modern target. Indeed, a stream of tweets and other headlines posted over the time I was writing this book swapped the name ‘Catilina’ for, among others, those of the presidents of the United States, France and Syria, the mayor of Milan and the State of Israel: ‘Quo usque tandem abutere, Francois Hollande, patientia nostra?’

So, back to Rome. I am one of the multitude that is fascinated by the Empire and it’s rise and fall. Only this time I would be hitting the heavyweights, Mary Beard: world renowned and respected historian. But how would it compare with Mike Duncan’s history of Rome podcast, still my benchmark for a quality podcast and for Roman History? Should I even try to compare them? Well it’s my blog so I’m going to say yes.

Mary Beard doesn’t so much peek as lift up and shine a bright light under the sleek veneer of Roman History, revealing tidbits such as the word candidate coming from the latin word candidatus, meaning whitened, regarding the special white toga’s worn by the Romans. This is revealed while Beard pulls apart Cesare Maccari’s painting of Cicero denouncing Catiline, the powerful moment in Rome’s early history that Beard picks up her history before she zips back to the beginning of the beginning and the real life / mythical tale of Romulus and Remus.

Beard spends a lot of time picking apart the myths and legends of Rome, the founding of the Republic, the rise of the plebians, from earlier scholars, themselves based on the prism of the Roman’s version of their own history. As the city expands, as the empire expands, as the Emporer’s come (and go) the idea of Rome, of what it was to be Roman, was constantly evolving, the Roman’s incredibly adept at rewriting their own history retrospectively, so that it suited the times that they were in. It i.s also particularly relevant today, looking at how the Roman’s dealt with the influx of people from all over their empire moving to the city with their own fashions and customs and the impact this had on ‘Roman-ness’

There is a treasure trove of information in this book, and Beard effortlessly combines fascinating facts with wry observations that prick through the pomposity of the subject and the Roman’s themselves. Using a chunk of Cicero’s letters and those of Pliny the younger, as well as archaeology and other research, and even previous histories, SPQR looks at the lives of ordinary citizens of the city, who became the centre of an incredible and diverse empire and so had to constantly evaluate themselves and their role within it. Highlighting that the city started properly with the effective kidnapping and raping of women from the next village, there are elements of the Romans that are as backward as they are enlightened, with some ideas and laws existing today in the same or slightly evolved form.

If Caesar really did advocate life imprisonment in 63 BCE, then it was probably the first time in Western history that this was mooted as an alternative to the death penalty, without success. Relying on the emergency powers decree, and so on the vociferous support of many senators, Cicero had the men summarily executed, with not even a show trial Triumphantly, he announced their deaths to the cheering crowd in a famous one-word euphemism: vixere, ‘they have lived’ – that is, ‘they’re dead’.

A look at the succession of Emperors it is not, although when they arrive, through the mighty yet conservative Augustus, to Caracalla, who gifting of citizenship which Beard finishes her history with, their actions with regards to management and succession is looked at through it’s impact on the empire and the city. Despite his greatness Beard points out that Augustus never really formalised the relationship between the Emperor and the Senate, and while he cleverly enveloped them into part of the empires civil service, to the extent that when he died they were incapable of trying to grab the power to run the empire back, the lack of demarcation caused issues for his successors further down the line. When Pliny was in charge of a province, it appears he corresponded directly to the Emperor  to ask questions regarding matters of office, which he more often than not received a reasonably prompt response.

It’s not all politics though, there are gambling on dice in the ports, barbarians and the exotic on the fringes it was interesting to note that a woman did not take her husbands name after marriage, or fall completely under his legal authority. When her father died an adult woman could own property in her own right, but and sell, inherit or make a will and free slaves. Beard points out that many of these rights women in Britain did not receive until the 1870’s.

SPQR is an incredible piece of work, over 500 pages of fascinating history, dollops and dollops of further reading and even a timeline (if that’s your thing). Beard has meticulously researched this, over a lifetime, has collated and organised and has also written in a wonderfully flowing, easy prose. Pointing out the obvious inaccuracies, or where it is impossible to know something for sure. But there is lots we can be certain of, and for lovers of Rome and the Romans, this is a fantastic read, and probably reaches details that Mike Duncan’s podcast doesn’t, but he goes right to the end of the western empire, so it’s swings and roundabouts. I tell you what, listen to that and read this. Everyone’s a winner.

After his long familiarity with the Romans, the king no doubt expected a rather civil meeting. Instead, Laenas handed him a decree of the senate instructing him to withdraw from Egypt immediately. When Antiochus asked for time to consult his advisors, Laenas picked up a stick and drew a circle in the dust around him. There was to be no stepping out of that circle before he had given his answer. Stunned, Antiochus meekly agreed to the senate’s demands. This was an empire of obedience.

 

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