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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