Thursday, February 28, 2008

Book Review: Breath of Corruption by Caro Fraser

I had been waiting to read this book for so long but in the end I was left rather disappointed.

Breath of Corruption is the seventh book in the Caper Court Series which was published at the end of 2007. The series is set around the set of chambers 5 Caper Court, a commercial set which specialises in commercial litigation and shipping, situated in Middle Temple, and the lives of the barristers who work there. There are a core set of central characters: Anthony Cross & Leo Davies who are both members of chambers, Felicity, secretary turned successful clerk and their many and intertwined family members and relationships. This series has been described as the thinking woman's chick-lit and I would agree, despite disliking the phrase chick-lit. The first six books spend as much time describing the law, the legal settings and surroundings as they do on the human stories, meaning that 'law' is almost an extra character. For me at least I enjoyed the books so much more because of their legal issues and also (as the author had been a lawyer herself) their factual correctness. Also, as I work up the road, I have also been to the vast number of places in the series.

So it was with eager anticipation that I finally got round to ordering Breath of Corruption from Amazon (having tried but failed to find it in the book shops of Holborn Circus, High Holborn or Chancery Lane) and settled down to read it last night. My initial instinct when I opened the package was one of puzzlement; where the first six books had seemed to look like 'proper' novels (i.e. the right size, thickness, page texture and so on) this new edition seemed wrong. Too thin, too tall, font spacing odd - it screamed amateur.

It was hard to initially put my finger on what I didn't like about the book once I had finished it. Ostensibly all the components were present. It was still set in Caper Court, the main characters were there in name, the plot vaguely revolved around the law and life in chambers. It was as if someone else had written it though; had decided that they were fed up with waiting to find out what happened next and would continue the story themselves - and that they fell flat because they didn't have a clear idea of how to carry on the story, that they didn't want to make life too hard so they made it half the length, left out all but a handful of characters and invented many new ones and as they had no real legal knowledge their legal setting, description and detail were left lacking. Only Fraser appears to have written it herself - she claims to have been a shipping barrister prior to being a novelist and the first six books left me no reason to doubt her. I now wonder if all the legal detail was in the editing.

On reflection though, the thing which disappointed me the most was the reduction in detail and factual description. In the first six books the legal details transform ordinary stories about relationships to something which I consider more interesting. Fraser portrayed law as interesting, romantic, meaningful, a part of history. She made me love my job more and the historical buildings and framework within which I work. In the books the characters visited the same bars as I do, the same courts, the details of the cases were laid out in such detail perhaps only a fellow lawyer would really bother to read it all and feel such affection for it. Reasons why I read, re-read and re-read again the first six books. The seventh had none of this detail - there was no timelessness to the references. Instead legal detail and real passion for the law gave way to contemporary references (some of which were out of date by the time I read it, 3 months after publication) and two-dimensional relationships. New characters (not a new theme by any means as each book introduced new figures) remained detail-less and face-less. Important characters from the sixth book were not even mentioned in the seventh. In short, I was bitterly disappointed.

... .... ...

EDIT - I feel a little bad. I also left a shorter review on the author's blog and I received this in response:-

"OK. Point taken. It’s been a tough two years, and this book wasn’t as good as it should have been. I’m planning to reintroduce characters such as Sarah to the next one, and take more time over the plot and sub-plots. I hate criticism, but I think in this case it’s well-deserved. Sorry. Watch this space. Caro"

Many a time I've wanted to be able to give an author honest feedback. Such are the wonders of blogging I suppose, but I feel a little bad at being so disappointed by her hard work. Having said that, criticisms of the 7th book are only positive things about the first 6.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

NHS saga

At 11pm on Tuesday evening I went to take my pill and realised it was the last in the packet. Unconcerned I went to get a new packet from the first-aid box and discovered that somehow I had managed to forget to get some more. Cue mild panic that I had 24 hours to procure some more. A relatively easy task one might think; I live in London, how hard can it be.

Pills do not qualify as an emergency so I couldn't call my doctor at 9am and make a same-day appointment. I am prepared for that though and for the past 2 years have instead made an appointment with the family planning clinic nearest my work. If they don't have any appointments left for the same day there is usually a clinic one can turn up to and wait. Not ideal but acceptable if one plans ahead and doesn't need same day treatment. I.e. Becomes an issue if you have an 'emergency' and need emergency contraception. I called as soon as I got to work and finally reached a recorded message indicating that they were closed until 12pm. At 12pm I started calling, going round and round their system until it finally kicked me out and then wouldn't let me back in, stating "this line is busy" ad infinitum. At 1.45pm I finally managed to speak to someone. They had no appointments (for that day or the next). Clinic times had also changed. They now closed at 3.30pm. Definitely not ideal. I couldn't leave work at 3pm at no notice. "What do you suggest I do" I enquired, "I really need to see someone today". "Call X in X" she replied and hung up. Called X at X clinic. Yes, they did have a clinic until 6.30pm every day. "Excellent", I said, "so as long as I get there before 6.30, I can see someone?". "No" came the answer " if you're not here before 5.30pm at the latest, we will have filled our quota and you won't be able to be seen". At least that one was open - I tried 3 others to be told the earliest I could be seen was next Tuesday.

Boss allowed me to leave at 5pm so I raced to get there before their seemingly random deadline, running down the road looking at a map hastily printed from google. I made it at 5.32pm only to hear the administrator attempting to turn away the girl at the desk in front of me. I explained the whole saga, the other girl explained hers. Administrator claimed that "on health and safety grounds we can only allow a certain number of people on the list" and "don't you know it's the end of the financial year". We negotiated for a while; in the end I found out that the whole of the area had been on a training course all morning and that all family planning clinics were closed that morning in the borough. Eventually she consented to letting us both wait and if the doctor (the only one on duty) had finished the list before the end of the clinic, she would see us. The administrator herself explained that she should have left 15 minutes earlier and left the clinic, handing me a printed piece of paper stating clinic hours - 5pm to 6.30pm. Presumably she was simply following instructions:she then said she was locking the doors on her way out so that no-one else could get in. And with that, she left. Nothing I could do but sit and wait and sit and hope. With growing frustration I watched the doctor accompany each patient back out into the reception area and place their notes in a basket and collect the next set of notes - a three or four minute time delay accompanying each patient. To the doctor's credit she did see me, eventually, at 6.40pm. She was so rushed she barely listened to any of the questions she fired off in rapid succession. 3 minutes later I had my pills and was back in reception, mission accomplished, finally.

In this specific instance it was in many ways my own fault for my mistake in not realising I needed to get more pills ahead of time, but it raised significant issues in my mind. The majority of the administrators I spoke to were more concerned with quotas, targets and so on than helping patients. No-one volunteered more information until I asked for it. The doctor seemed to be wasting time between each patient by having to collect and return each set of notes herself. There surely must be a more effective system. All of the clinics I spoke to seemed surprised I couldn't attend daytime clinics. I work 9.30 until whenever every day of the week. Thankfully my boss is fairly understanding about personal issues and generally lets me leave on time if I really need to and there is nothing of vital importance happening. The majority of days I wouldn't be able to leave on time as a matter of course. This is unfair on those who are attempting to be responsible by having a job and using effective contraception. If I had needed the morning after pill, such reduced options would mean I would in all probability have been forced to purchase it at a chemist for £25 when I should be able and am entitled to get it free. I could envisage a situation where someone with more dubious morals who found it hard to schedule an appointment for contraception would be tempted to leave it to chance, taking the morning after pill (if they could get it) or even simply arranging an abortion (which seems even easier to get than simply trying to arrange contraception in the first place). Surely we do not want our system to punish those trying to be responsible and to put quotas and targets ahead of patient care and safety? I am pleased people are being sent on training courses, but surely staggering them is a more viable option than crippling the system by closing everything on the same day. Until there is improvement in basic services, I cannot see confidence in the NHS improving.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

You're Not the Only One...

A new bloggers collection has been brought to my attention, one which is for a great cause:
"One of the things that a lot of us love about blogging is that we share experiences. We may not meet or even see our fellow bloggers but we feel we know them. For many of us it's an important part of feeling connected, almost like having another support system. Recently I tagged some bloggers on memes requiring a bit more info on who they were and what they felt and what I read really moved me. They made me wish I could pay for their writing, to thank them for sharing, to give them something for giving me their words on their personal stories.
From that thought, and with the help of a small team (Sarah from He Loves Me Not, Ariel from From F**k Up To Fab, Ms R from Woman of Experience and Vi from Village Secrets) we've come up with a plan! We're putting together a book for WARCHILD written by bloggers and here's where you come in:

We would like you to submit (to us at a written piece about something you've been through from any aspect of your life that you want to share. It can literally be about anything: your relationships, your past, a road not taken, being a parent, an illness or your regrets etc.
We've called it "You're Not The Only One" to reflect the camaraderie of blogging.Proceeds will go to WARCHILD and, blatantly following in the same fashion as Troubled Diva (Mike Atkinson)'s Shaggy Blog Stories, we will be publishing it through
WARCHILD is a uk based charity but it helps children all over the world, so we'd like as many submissions from as many places as possible."
See Peach for more details.
I have submitted my entry which is something I have not yet posted on my blog so is entirely original. If it doesn't make the book I might be persuaded to post it here instead. It's subject is something which happened to me a long time ago, which is, boringly, entitled Earthquake.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A is for ...

I have been tagged again by Diary of a Young Horse:-

The rules are...

  • You must post the rules before you give your answers.

  • After you've been tagged, you need to update your blog with your middle name and answers.

  • You must list one fact about yourself for each letter of your middle name.

  • Each fact must begin with that letter.

  • If you don't have a middle name, just use your maiden name/last name.

  • At the end of your post, you need to tag one person for each letter of your middle name. (Be sure to leave them a comment telling them they've been tagged and need to read your blog for details).

When Echo attempted this, she described characteristics for each of her letters. She only has 3 whereas I have 9. I am going to give actual facts as I cannot and do not want to start thinking about 9 attributes I could label myself. Good or bad.

C is for cartwheels. I spent the vast proportion of my childhood turning cartwheels, whether it be at gymnastics on apparatus, in the garden or on the beach for pleasure, there was something satisfying about the precision and rhythm of a cartwheel - the hand placing, the head alignment, the speed at which one could gain given a long enough space and the way that my hair would brush the floor as I went, one foot, one hand, second hand, one foot, linking them together in long chains.

A is for arriving on time, something which I am notoriously bad at. I used to pride myself on my manners. Now I have realised that I need to update them rather.

T is for Tea, surprisingly enough. My favourite drink be it made the English way or the Moroccan. Both are good; just not at the same time or a mixture of the two. Too much of the Moroccan version would surely rot your teeth.

H is for holidays. Hopefully France and Italy this summer, although both M and I would also like to go to Greece and put some of my studying of Classics into perspective. H is also for hindsight; mostly I wish I could employ the same information as foresight. Life would be a lot easier.

E is for envy. An emotion which is far too easy. Which is another E. I am more envious than easy. I would like to be neither.

R is for rain. The sound of rain pitter-pattering against material makes me think of holidays; the smell of rain in summer is the smell of summer holidays. In my mind's eye, it is always sunny. In my mind's sensory bank it is always raining. And Flanders and Swann always playing. The trusty tardis of a Volvo's windscreen is fogged up by too many occupants and several cups of tea resting on the dashboard. We are damp and salty from sailing and playing on the beach. There are sailing waterproofs and damp towels lying over every seat. Those are the kind of holidays I want my children to look back on.

I is for igloos. I have never seen a proper one or been to the North Pole. I would like to see the Northern Lights. When we were in Finland we were too far south (and in a city).

N is for not being able to get out of bed. I feel this is directly proportional to my inability to arrive anywhere punctually.

E is for eggs. I can't eat eggs cooked in their pure form. I am extremly able to eat eggs once they have been made into cakes or pancakes. I am unable to eat omlettes. I am definitely able to eat chocolate ones.

According to the rules, I have to now tag nine people. If anyone would like to take up this challenge please leave me a comment and I will add a link to you.

Little Miss Rachel

Little Miss Rachel - It came directly from my comments box, but I decided that it fitted rather too well. All week my blog has been bothering me; the line between anonymity and the personal too close for comfort. "Anonymity is the personal blogger's best friend. Lose it at your own peril" warned Petite Anglais, far too late for it to be any use to me.

I haven't achieved notoriety, fame or a book-deal but I haven't exactly managed the anonymity thing very well either. All my family know of it's presence (lurking rather menacingly in the background, providing a slightly irritating self conscious commentary on things, as I know people read it and everyone knows I write it). My name is in fact, my name. Rather dull, rather personal. Little Miss Rachel still involves my name (as I can't really escape it now), but it is more than my name. It conveys, somehow, that it is all about me. Which it seems to be, more and more these days. Not in a good way though, not in a way that I attempt; to give an 'interesting' insight into my life. My posts come across more as rants or insipid descriptions of parties attended, books read. I need to inject something more interesting, something which is more worthwhile reading back into the text.

But somehow, it just doesn't work. So whilst I try and recover from my blogger's block I thought I'd update the template instead.

Friday, February 15, 2008

20 Something Debates (II)

What made you feel more like an adult, your first job or you first car?

Another week, another 20 something debate. Perhaps my attempts at hypothetical debating will offer less offence than my personal observations of a foreign trip.

As with the other debate to which I gave my opinion the situation is hypothetical because I have never owned a car. Yes, Little Miss Rachel, retired Primrose Hill Princess (or whichever moniker one prefers to lift from my comments box) has never owned a car. In fact, she can probably count the number of times she has driven one on no more than her own hands and feet.

I passed my driving licence on my first attempt the day after A level results (something which I perhaps should have given more thought to when I booked the test) despite suffering from shaky knees and, briefly, closing my eyes as I drove onto a dual carriageway. Passing the test was merely forethought for convenience in later life; I had no intention of having a car - bpth parents and a boyfriend had one already so all my lift needs were covered but one day I thought I might want to drive my children around. Plus my parents paid for the lessons. All good reasons. I disappeared off to university shortly after and, apart from occasionally driving the boyfriend's car to keep my hand in, so to speak, I barely drove at all. The year after the boyfriend disappeared to study in America and there ended the car: I had driven two or three times on the motorway and still had trouble parking. There was a gap of three or four years until my youngest sister turned 17, passed her test, bought a car and then realised if she drove she couldn't drink. Somehow she persuaded my mother that if I were on her insurance that my mother could stop providing a taxi service and persuaded me that what I really wanted to do for an entire holiday period was to act as her personal chauffeur. Holidays over, she finished school, started a gap year, sold the car and went off travelling. No more car = no more insurance = no more driving. As we live in London there is no need for us to have a car and on the rare occasions we need one, M borrows his work delivery van.

Logically therefore it would seem that I must have felt more grown-up when I started my first job. Depends on your definition of first job. First time I earned any money or first time that I had to have a job to pay the rent and the bills? My first paid job, as I had always dreamt as a small child during endless games with my sisters, was selling shoes. For £3.53 p/h I worked on the shoe concession in Dorothy Perkins, running up and down stairs to the stockroom and doing the figures for my manager (a 24 year old with a 9 year old son and 6 year old daughter) so she could pretend to her manager she had done them herself. I worked for 6 hours on a Saturday afternoon, coveting the latest shoes which I could purchase at 25% discount and reserve my size the moment that they came into the shop. Once the shop had closed, been tidied and re-stocked I would walk round to Halfords where my boyfriend worked and he would drive me home for supper and so I could change before we went to wherever the gig was that evening. He was the bassist in a band. I may only have been earning £3.53 but, after shoes, it paid for beer. I felt very grown-up.

Looking back on it today, I smile inwardly at how young I seem in the memories and how different things are, 9 years on. My first 'proper' job where if I didn't work, my rent wasn't paid came immediately after graduating from law school in 2005. Suddenly, after 5 years of university where I had worked summer jobs and spent the proceeds on holidays and term-time drinking, with a loan to cover rent and bills, I realised what it meant to work because I had to. I came back from Glastonbury to the end of my student bubble. I was 23 with 2 degrees, an LPC, no job, no money. Life in it's reality kicked in and I started applying for temporary work. 7/7 came and went and I managed to line up a variety of legally related temporary work, mostly reception and switchboard cover which served not only as a money earner but a daily reminder as to why I had gone to law school and fuelled my desire for a training contract all the more.

Obtaining my training contract, finally, at the start of 2007 was the first time when I went to work feeling an adult. A year and a half of work (I managed to get a semi-legally-related permanent job in September 2005) had allowed me know what it was like to work, to be tired, to have deadlines and to achieve them. The start of my training contract was more than a new job, it was the job. The start of my career.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A clarification

Blogging - it's a hard line to tread. Expressing opinions without offending other readers or family members whilst staying true to myself. Most family members know I have a blog. I didn't realise anything of them really read it. For the record, I stand by my opinions but I would like to make the following points:

1. I had a fantastic time at the wedding. I thought it was the perfect day for the pair in question. I enjoyed every aspect of the day with the exception of having to walk through snow in high-heeled shoes and a floor length dress. I have been looking forward to seeing all the photographs, checking facebook morning and evening to see if anyone has uploaded any. Despite all of the things which had to be organised and the business of the weeks leading up to the wedding I have been missing both bride and groom since our return to London and am constantly wondering where they are and how they are enjoying their honeymoon.

2. Whilst on reflection I did not care much for Finland I enjoyed the experience, learning about a new culture and country.

3. IBS, stomach problems and on-going illness and malaise do not mix with a change in diet and time differences. This was not necessarily because it was Finland. Recovering from the norovirus and flying in a large party of many ages do not really lend themselves to an enjoyable flight. Trying to carry out bridesmaid duties whilst stuffing anti-diarrhea tablets and paracetamol down one's throat whilst dying for a proper cup of tea and some recognisable food which did not make one run to the loo do not make for a happy person. Their views as a result may be slightly warped, particularly if they are prone to pessimism and moaning.

4. I would not, myself, personally choose to fly RyanAir if there was another feasible option or choice. I was perfectly happy with all the arrangements made on my behalf and I realise that when travelling with a 92 year old Granny in a wheelchair going via somewhere else and a train is not a viable option. I loved the hotel in which we stayed, the views and the architecture. I enjoyed learning how to take a sauna Finnish style. I was incredibly grateful that I did not have to book any of the flights or hotel.

So, in conclusion, my sincere apologies to anyone that I may have offended by either the tone or content of my reflections on Finland. I have learnt my lesson that regardless of whether I stand by my opinions I should consider the reader and how they will be affected by my words.

It does make me wonder though how many people truly read all of what I have written or whether they, under the guise of anon, feel simply like making sweeping comments. I really don't feel like I acted like an embarrassing English person abroad. My reflections were made afterwards and were admittedly probably skewed from having been ill the entire time, exacerbated by the food which I ate. I really don't feel that I in any way made the wedding all about me (which is why I was forced to take the 3 or 4 min taxi ride as I didn't want the bride to know that on any other occasion I would have remained in the loo), although if anyone who attended it would like to contradict me, anonomously or otherwise, I will apologise. I don't even feel I made the week all about me, but again, if opinion differs I will stand corrected and learn from it.

Here Comes Your Man

they knelt before the priest, a curious mix of grown up but looking so young (rather like a new school child in their first blazer and tie), her in an intricately pleated silk dress of her own design, he in his own version of morning dress. he had stood nervously at the front of the sparse but cavernous cathedral expecting her imminent arrival. the bridesmaids led the way up the aisle and then her entrance. his face lit up and he beamed at his bride as she walked confidently on the arm of her father, her outside appearance giving away none of the anxiety of the day to which she had professed as she had been helped into her dress.

they knelt before the priest, watched by 3 bridesmaids and his best man, in front of an audience of 75 of their closest friends and family, dwarfed by the magnificence of the cathedral. he helped her back to her feet and they looked at each other in excitement and with true love as they spoke their vows and exchanged their rings. they left the church as man and wife, showered with rice which glistened in her hair as she listened to his speech in which he stated that love changes ones reality, like a tiger in a room, and she was part tiger, part love of his life.

they stood together in front of their friends as the music started to play, and they danced the quickstep and their faces next to each other were a perfect emotion of love, of stillness in the spinning room, in the spinning world.

Finland (II)

I feel my first post about Finland may have been misleading and made me out to be a whiny Brit abroad who is an embarrassment abroad (paraphrasing Emma, in any event) to which I disagree.

I think it is perfectly acceptable to visit somewhere with an open mind and then on return and reflection to decide that one didn't much like it. I expected it to be cold and snowy, which it was (although I didn't somehow expect that all the snow would be piled in great huge dirty heaps next to the road). I had hoped I would like the food better (although as I had been told that Chirac thought the only thing worse than British food to be Finnish food, I wasn't that surprised) and I made an effort to try traditional foods, sampling meatballs, herrings, reindeer, rice cake things but having to draw the line at black-pudding sausage. I found negotiating a wedding in high-heels and a floor length formal gown tedious due to the snow and cold but I had a good time. I found the change in food and drink to make my stomach worse so that by the time we left I had barely eaten anything for a few days. I had read about the history of the country before we left, although I accept I mis-remembered some of the facts.

I went to an espionage museum and learnt about espionage and the Finnish role in spying, which given their geographical position is greater than I had ever imagined. I went to the Lenin museum (in the Workers Hall where Lenin met Stalin in Tampere) and learnt about the Soviet-Finnish relationship, about how Lenin had moved there in 1905 and remained there until 1907 and that he returned again in 1917. I learnt also that he had been instrumental in helping Finland achieve independence in 1917 and that his name was one of the first on the petition for independence. I found the museum to be insular and almost propaganda based (despite what the website says), that nothing was explained on a global level, but as it is run by the Finland-Russia Society this did not surprise me.

I was intrigued by the architecture of Tampere. It was rather like stepping into a Lowry painting and the place looked at once Russian and like (what I imagine) Manchester at the time of the industrial revolution. Tampere is full of textile factories, which to my mind are characterised by their distinctive red brickwork and long tall brick chimneys. It had me itching for a sketch-book but by the time I had a moment to contemplate any drawing the fog had come down and it was hard to make out much at all.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Finland, Finland, Finland

Ordinarily, I write for myself; my thoughts and opinions on what I see, read, watch, my views on life as I live it. I pride myself on being honest about my thoughts, feelings and how I record them.

Occasionally, I have to decide that there are bigger things in life than my thoughts and on reflection, this is one of them. Therefore, I have decided to remove what was previously here although I have left the comments.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Wedding Preparations

This time next week I shall be in Finland for M's brother's wedding. The hen party safely over, it has been a frantic few weeks helping with the various other preparations. I have been helping put together my bridesmaid dress in sessions which felt rather like advanced couture dress-making the modular version as I learnt extremely quickly why one does not, if one can help it, cut fabric from a piece of material spread on a sheet over floorboards in a room which only has side-lighting ("it looks like a mouse bit it out of the fabric Rachel") or why when one is sewing French-seams it is better to have in mind the overall objective first rather than trying to do each of the four parts in turn and find that mistakes made on each stage have dire implications for the progress of the seam. Still, the next time I need to make a boned bodice I am well equipped to make a decent stab at it likewise the next time I need to cut out pattern pieces from silk chiffon crepe I know that I am to refuse.

Given the amount of wedding preparations going on around us it was nice to escape for a night out with M yesterday. We decided to celebrate our anniversary with a meal at Firehouse in South Kensington. The food was wonderful, the service even better and we had a fabulous night. We spent three hours over our meal, ending with chocolate fondue with strawberries, raspberries and marshmallows to dunk and beautifully made espressos before heading down to the bar to linger over mojitos.