Friday, September 21, 2018

Bobs and Daves

Dave and Bob, Bob and Dave

Christopher fowler always has two migrant worker builders in his books. They never do much but comment on the lack of progress in the current investigation, make numerous cups of tea and play with Crippen, the resident cat of the peculiar crime unit.
They are both called Dave or both called Bob.

Dave and Bob. Anybody of that name must be a man of the people, Bob is Bob and Robert is not. Dave is the classic comedy channel on Virgin Media. Dave is the bloke who tells jokes in the pub. He’s a real diamond geezer.

It was said at a panel at Bouchercon, and by many others before that the USA and the UK are two countries divided by a mutual language.
And a lot more. Like a big bit of water.

On our last day in the states we met Bob and Dave USA style.

We had left St Petes to go….westish and up a bit, to a place called Indian Rocks. It’s that long spickle of land ( well really a collection of rocky islands) on the bit of Florida that looks out to Texas and Mexico side.  Clearwater is 7 miles to the south or north, of where we were staying. Having spotted that on the map I asked HWMBI if there was any credence to the rumours of Clearwater’s revival.
See what I did there!

 He told me to go away.
Anyhow. We had booked a small place there, 364 steps to the best, from a guy called Bob.  Bob was an American, he knew about a lot of  stuff, wore a fancy shirt and a straw hat. He had bright blue flinty eyes, that sparkled as hard as diamonds.  He was a retired teacher of English as a foreign language (????), skint in his retiral due to putting his daughter through college. I think wife number one had cleaned him out. Wife number two was called Miho, a lovely retired Japanese librarian. They had bought the place to let out for some income to eek out his pension, and he added he was thinking about driving for Uber to aid things along. I suspect most of Bob’s life had been aquatic, lots of bobbing around one would presume.    The place was a single unit, a bungalow, split into two apartments, small, minimalist but, as HWMBI would say, as a true Scot, attractively priced. And it was only 300 steps from the beach, past a shop that sold ice cream.
So that was Bob, more about him in a few weeks. 
Then we met Dave the Uber driver who took us back to the airport. He was a talker. And then some.
I have a natural aversion to taxis. I avoid them at all costs. Taxis are the natural home of the serial killer. I spend all my time looking at the back of their head, ready to garrotte them if they try to reach for the gaffa tape. 
So Dave appears.  He was a Venezuelan born, naturalised American. He has published one book and has another five on the pipeline (Alan thought I was very good to say nothing – not that I could get a word in edgeways and in any case, I had my garrotte ready)


 Here are ten highlights of the thoughts of Dave.
1)      He would never vote for Trump, never has and never will. But he thinks he’s a good guy. He like the way he has cut all USA foreign aid in order to feed the poor at home. And he does things, ‘boom boom boom boom.’ He was fond of saying Boom Boom Boom Boom.
2)      He thinks the pope is (unprintable). Dave is a good Catholic who thinks the Pope should interfere more in the politics of South America. He’s a friend of Maradona and that’s a terrible example to set anybody. The worse problems in the world are caused by ideology and religion. He clutched his rosary beads as he said this.
3)      Religion causes religious war and that kills people. The Muslims are at it now but the Catholics used to do it. The Catholics have learned their lesson and don’t kill people any more. The Muslims should learn from this
4)      Dave is proof that it is possible to drive without putting your hands anywhere near the steering wheel at any time. And you can drive forward while looking backwards.
5)      Putin, and others (couldn’t catch them but Castro was in there) are mind-bending peoples’ psyche towards Communism. People who believe in Communism and Socialism are wacko. Boom Boom Boom. Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua are all corrupt, killing thousands. He hated socialism and socialist, he wanted the power to be in the hands of the people and equal wealth. boom boom boom.
6)       Venezuela will be invaded before the end of the year by the surrounding countries as Venezuela gave their oil and uranium to USSR (as it was) for nothing.  The Venezuelan President had a lot to do with this.
7)      The British are all serial killers (so the feeling was mutual then) and cold bloodied. But they are good at Imperialism and leave behind good behaviour in countries they have colonised.


8)      The British killed Diana as she was more popular than the Queen in the hearts of the common people. And it’s the people that matter. They should have the power. All the power should be with the people.
9)       Communism and socialism are terrible diseases of society and are wacko. Dave is a huge supporter of Capitalism, and trying to get on by doing the best for himself. He has a poorly paid job in a laundry and drives for Uber at the weekend. He despises corporations and those that keep the profit from filtering down to the poor.  Britain is great (as the name might suggest) because they have free healthcare and look after the poor in society. But all socialism sucks and is wacko.  The USA likes to keep everybody on drugs as it makes the drug companies richer, whereas if you get treatment in GB, you are better in a week. This was accompanied by a mime. The USA puts drugs down the throat, GB gives you cream to rub on your arm.
10)   In airport British Airways is blue, and always should be. If it was red that would be wacko.

We went into the airport, sat down and both had a very strong coffee.
Dave is going in a book.

 Caro Ramsay   21 09 2018

Thursday, September 20, 2018

What's in a name?

Michael - Thursday

I’ve just completed the road trip back from Knysna to Johannesburg over two days. It’s about twelve hours of driving, so one has plenty of time to let one’s mind wander (but hopefully not too far off the road). From time to time one approaches (and usually avoids) a town which appears suddenly in the the dry Karoo in the middle of nowhere. Often these towns have intriguing names and I promised myself I would look up the stories behind some of them. Of course, the same is true in any country, but South Africa’s settlement names spread across a variety of languages. I chose to concentrate on the ones where I knew what they meant. Inevitably, I speculated about the stories behind the names as I drove. For example Eenbekerpan means ‘one cup water point’. One can imagine the thirsty travelers arriving on horseback and being faced with a nearly dry pan with just one cup of water to share between them. A colorful story to tell as one drives past, but maybe a mortal disappointment to the trekkers in the arid Northern Cape.

 Anyway, as I drove I made up some of my own stories of how the names originated. Then I checked on Google to get the real story (if it had one). Here’s a selection of towns with both. You choose which is the true one.


Johannesburg with mine dump in the foreground
Johannesburg owes its existence to the rich gold reef discovered in 1886. Before that, it was just a collection of farms. The discovery was made by a father and son prospecting team - Johannes Willem Nel and his son Johannes Pieter Nel. They tried to keep the find secret, but word soon got out starting one of the huge gold rushes of the nineteenth century. The sprawling settlement of miners was named after the two discoverers.
Johannes is a very common Afrikaans boy’s name – equivalent to John. Since the land was in an Afrikaner republic at the time, many of the people involved had Johannes as at least one of their names. Even the famous Paul Kruger, who was president of the said republic at the time, had it as a middle name, so some believe the new town was named after him. Others say that it was named after people involved in the layout of the town.


Baardskeederbos. Pretty spot nowadays
This translates to beard cutter’s forest. It’s named after a barber who had run foul of the Dutch administration in Cape Town and took himself out of town to a location where he could practice his trade in peace. In due course, he made his peace with Simon van der Stel (then the governor) and returned to the town.
The forest is named after a spider which was believed to run at high speed chasing people and even snipping men’s beards for its nest. Since it is very common in the area, the town is named after it. Watch out for your beard!

Coffee Bay

A beach at Coffee Bay
As a result of a ship wreck, a mass of coffee beans were scattered on the fertile shore. They grew into coffee bushes, giving the town its name.
The Nenga River flows into the sea with a large lagoon at Coffee Bay exiting into a sheltered cove. The brackish water from the river has a brown hue which colors the bay after a flood. The brown bay gave the town its name.


Maybe its the design over the bar of the Bandelierkop Hotel?
This means bandolier hill. The town takes its name from a boer commando that camped on the hill overnight. After breaking camp and heading down to the surrounding plane, one man discovered that he’d left his bandolier behind. His unsympathetic commander made him return for it while the others rode on.
The hill has an interesting cliff face which has eroded vertical pock marks over the eons. A fanciful person might claim that they look like a bandolier straddling the hillside.


Soweto as it is today
This huge sprawling township to the south of Johannesburg was initially populated by the Southern Sotho people. Bantu languages often insert ‘we’ into the tribal name to indicate home. So the name means ‘home of the Sotho people’.
The name is an acronym for South Western Townships.


Did I mention it has a lake?
The name comes from the Hebrew word meaning ‘younger son’. It was a later development than Johannesburg, but nearby, so in that sense it is the offspring.
The town was hard to lay out because of technical problems with the deeds, so it’s named after Rachel’s son – ‘son of my sorrow’ because she had a difficult time giving birth to him.


With a name like that, you have to do something to attract tourists
This is the Afrikaans word for a puff adder – a deadly local snake. The town is situated in an arid part of the Cape where the snake is particularly common.
Klaas Pofadder was a local chieftain of the Koi Koi people and the town was named after him.

Anyone have any favorite town names and the stories (truth or fiction) behind them?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Imitation of a Dark Blond

Bjorn Leggo-Saab Freudsen - Standing in for Leye Adenle this Wednesday.

A fragment from my upcoming London Times bestseller: The Laughing Faceless Detective With the Frost Tattoo.

Everett Kaser
who, like me, lives in a gloomy place.

I rubbed my eyes, trying to force the image outside the car window to come into focus.
            I wished I had stayed with goop.  But it was illegal. The sticky, black-brown paste my brother cooked up in his lab at the university every Friday afternoon had had its base in hashish.  Hagar had spread it, still warm enough to be soft, onto cigarette papers, which we rolled and smoked.  Hagar had given it its American namegoop.
It lighted me up.
            If I could take a few hits on goop right now, this bleak landscape would assume the aspect of a brilliant minimalist painting. Even in this relentlessly somber light, where the color of the sky exactly matched the wet concrete pavement.
            If I were high on goop, this thin strip of blue water between the endless bands of grey would take on gleaming intensity.  Painful because it was the shade of Sigrid's eyes.  It reminded me of death.  One death I could not stop. And all the deaths I could not stop investigating.  Not even goop, with its silly American namesilly like all Americanscould erase my agony.
            It had, in the end, taken away Hagar's passionhis work at the university. He had been shamed into resigning.  "For using his laboratory to manufacture a banned substance," the letter from the Department Rector had said.  Hagar had taken his own life.
            I did not.  Coward that I am, I had turned to a weaker, but the only legal means of dulling my pain.  Drink.
            And so I never drive.  I look out the window while my partner drives us to the investigation of yet another death.  And I rub my drunken eyes.  And I try to bring into focus that thin stripe of blue between the interminable bands of grey.  And try not to see in it the color of Sigrid's eyes.
            "I think it's the next turning on the left," Nils said.  "Can you see the spinning light of the squad car through the mist?"
            I could not. "Yes," I said.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Road to My Debut Novel

Annamaria on Monday

We left La Paz early in the morning, in a land rover, carrying our drinking water for a week.

We were supposedly on the Pan-American Highway.  In many places, it was nothing more than a dry riverbed.

For the first full day, as we climbed from nine thousand to ten thousand to eleven thousand feet, we saw the land around us become more and more barren, until it resembled no place on earth that I had known.  The surface of the moon is what it brought to mind.

We occasionally saw a llama, or three.  And a settlement.  In that wasteland, living off the animals was the only choice.  Though we saw no other human beings, we saw the places they had built and inhabited.  At the lower (if you can call them that) elevations there were a few plants that might keep the beasts alive.  After a while there was nothing--not a blade of grass, not an insect, not a reptile.

Along the way, we stopped to eat our lunch.  A llama came and stuck her head between Naty and me, turning to look from one to the other as our conversation bounced back and forth. 

Portrait of Barbara Ann
 After lunch, it was my turn to drive.  That meant I got to choose the music.   My playlist was a selection of lively songs to keep me alert after eating. Just before I put the car in gear, the llama came to the driver’s side, stuck her head in the window, and stared at the car radio.  I observed that that might have been the very first time on earth that a llama heard the Beach Boys singing “Barbara Ann.”

By dusk that first day, we arrived in Oruru—elevation 3709 meters (12K feet), where we checked into the Hotel Terminal.  Which by the way, was not heated.  Maybe a hot shower would help?  No, maybe not.  My guidebook said that the water was heated instantaneously by electricity, and there was danger of electrocution.

We kept on our clothing, piled on all the blankets we could find, and shivered anyway.  Soon the whole building was throbbing with the music and dancing from a wedding on the ground floor.  I wanted to go down and see it, but David declared that it would be rude for a foreigner to go and gawk at the locals on their wedding day.  I guessed he was right.  But to this day, I am sorry I didn’t see it when I had the chance.

The next day offered only an endless moonscape, until we passed a dip in the altitude and saw a few trees.  That fleeting greenery disappeared as we climbed again—to thirteen thousand feet, where I was astonished to see a huge sign, welcoming us to Potosi’, declared by UNESCO in 1987 as part of the patrimony of humanity.

What?  What was a part of the patrimony of humanity doing on the surface of the moon?

When we entered the city, we found the answer:  A Seventeenth Century Spanish city, with splendid baroque architecture.  But not in the style of the European baroque with cherubs and rose garlands.  Mestizo baroque has as its motifs the faces and nature of South America.  What a knock out!  I remain astonished to this day.

After learning about the history from the guides and locals, I hungered for more.  Then on Day2 of our stay, we were touring a cloistered convent—still in use.  

The convent on which my imaginary one is based.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the docent told us, it was a place only for Spanish noblewomen.  “Why would a noblewoman lock herself up in place like this?” David wanted to know. But I was translating the information for him, and by then, the guide had taken us into another room and resumed her tale.  Since I depend on what I know of Latin, Italian, and French to understand Spanish, I needed to concentrate on her talk and couldn’t answer him. 

But that night at dinner I had several answers to David’s question.  A convent school educated woman like me would have no trouble imaging such reasons.  I told him—and Steve and Naty—six.

When I was back home in New York, reading everything I could find on that fascinating place, those reasons turned into women in my head.  And their lives turned into a story: a locked-room mystery in which one of them is threatened by the Inquisition.  Therefore, a mysterious death in the convent must be accounted for.  Otherwise, my imaginary abbess will die at the stake.

City of Silver was a story that would not let me go until I wrote it.

Happy me
David Jay Clark, who made all these photos except this not very good, but happy one.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Surprise! Hokkaido Horserace!

-- Susan, every other Sunday

I'm currently on a three-week mountain climbing trip to Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost major island.

This is what heaven looks like.

In the six days since my arrival, I've summited three major peaks (the smallest was just under 2,000 meters, the highest 2,141), with five more possible climbs on the agenda before I return to Tokyo on September 25.

On the summit of Tomuraushi, 2,141 meters

Some of you may have seen that Hokkaido was rocked by a massive earthquake a little over a week ago (three days before I arrived). The island's 5 million residents have done a shockingly good job of recovering from the quake. Although some areas remain impacted, others have pretty much returned to normal.

Wherein lies a tale.

Two days ago I discovered that my trekking poles, permitted on the bullet train, are not permitted on the ANA flight I'm taking back to Tokyo from the northern Hokkaido city of Wakkanai. Since I travel light, my existing suitcase isn't large enough for the poles, so my guide and I used today's rest day between climbs for a detour to Obihiro, the only designated city in Tokachi prefecture, so I could buy a larger suitcase.

This is neither a city nor my suitcase. In case you were wondering.

While there, my guide discovered that traditional horse racing was taking place at the city's track this afternoon - the first such races since the earthquake. Since I love horses as much as I love mountains, we hopped in the car and reached the track just minutes before the race began.

The horse racing stadium in Obihiro, Hokkaido, Japan

We spent those minutes visiting the retired racehorses stabled near the track. The stable is open so visitors can meet these massive horses (and for the equivalent of $1 you can buy carrots to feed them - which, of course, we did).
This beautiful fellow was such a good racer that he has official citizenship papers in Obihiro.

Hokkaido's traditional racing isn't long-track, high speed racing like you see in the United States. It's short-track-with-two-hills racing referred to as "stop and go!"

The "big hill" on the traditional racing track.

The race takes about five minutes to run, and the horses seemed to enjoy the competition.

Horses coming up the "big hill" in the middle of the race.

This style of racing was invented by Japanese farmers. When the season's work was finished, they challenged one another to see whose horse could run the fastest while pulling a load.

Down the hill! It's like Western racing in slow motion. The crowd loved this part.

Today, the horses (all massive draft animals) pull weighted sleds up the little hill, to the big hill, and to the finish line.

The jockeys have to keep the horses in their lanes, or they will be disqualified.

The horses seemed to be enjoying themselves (I've spent enough time around horses to know - and these were not upset), and the weight isn't heavy enough to be cruel. In fact, the one that won was way behind and clearly decided he didn't want to finish last:

The exciting (first) rush to the finish! (There are eight more horses about 30 yards behind.)

So the 75% mark, he perked his ears forward, lowered his head, and hauled some serious horsie-tush for the finish line.

We got to watch the exciting finish four more times, as the other eight horses made their way to the finish line over the next minute or two.

I love the mountains, but I'm also an enormous fan of experiences--especially those involving traditional culture (and horses), and this was an exciting way to spend my rest day in Obihiro!

See you in two weeks, when I'll be back from the mountains and hopefully sharing more adventures from Japan's far north!