Isvik by Hammond Innes

This is a real page turner.

An old wooden ship is trapped in the Antarctic ice. It set sail from Argentina to the Falkland Islands two years after the war between the UK and Argentina was over. Why was this, what was the plan, and how did it end up embedded in the ice in Antarctica?

The only problem I have with this book is that almost all of the people have serious character flaws. There are many antagonists and only one protagonist. I don’t like and can’t relate to any of the characters as likeable or normal human beings.

The main antagonist is called Iain Ward who speaks many languages, has pots of money, and has a claw instead of a hand. He’s the financier of the trip of the Isvik from Punta Arenas in Chile to the icy wastes of the Antarctic. We know nothing of this character’s background other than he tries to dominate every situation he finds himself in. He claims at various times to be a pools winer, road haulier, and an old Etonian, so you’re never quite sure what he is. There’s no explanation at the end of the book as he suddenly leaves the boat in the middle of the ocean via helicopter.

The narrator is Peter Kettil who is an expert on sails and wood preservation. Peter relates everyone else’s conversations really well but doesn’t say that much himself. Other characters are Australian married deckhands, a Norwegian engineer, plus three South Americans of unknown parentage who may or may not be brothers / sisters / cousins. One of these South Americans is the wife of a British glaciologist who saw the boat they’re searching for in the ice before his plane crashed and he was killed.

There’s a lot of unknowns floating around in the background of most of the story and this causes some distractions as I read, hence I can only give this book 4 stars.

The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas

Mattis is the main character of this book that deals with human relations, emotions, and sensitivities. It’s about relationships between people and between people and nature.

Mattis lives with his sister Hege in the Norwegian countryside near a forest and by a lake. He’s extraordinarily aware of nature and changes in the natural environment. He gets excited when a woodcock starts flying over the house where they live and gets upset when lightning strikes an aspen close by.

He’s scared of storms and feels pressured when interacting with other humans. He’s socially inept and tends to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.

Hege knits sweaters and the money she earns keeps them solvent but Mattis can’t work very well as he feels pressure and imagines people are watching him. He can’t concentrate and even weeding turnips is beyond him after 20 minutes or so.

Luckily, the people around understand who he is and try not to be upset with him. He’s tolerated though people are impressed when he rows two young girls to the shore.

Hege suggests Mattis act as a ferryman on the lake and his only passenger is a lumberjack called Jorgen who moves in to their house and becomes Hege’s lover.

The situation really improves as Hege is a lot happier and their financial situation is more secure, but Mattis doesn’t see it that way. He’s concerned about what will happen to him as he thinks he’ll be thrown out of the house.

I was so impressed with the author that I have bought two more of his books.

The Glass Pearls by Emeric Pressburger

Karl Braun is a cultured German gentleman who works as a piano tuner in the London of the mid 1960s. Many of his fellow emigres assume like them he fled to England to avoid the Nazis.

In the summer of 1965 he courts one woman, is pursued by another, and attends classical concerts. The newspapers begin to report the trial of the prison guards and medical staff of the Wittau concentration camp.

A former colleague of Braun’s called Hein dies in front of Braun when they meet on an early morning tube train. Braun has to leave Hein where he is to cover his tracks unless a connection is made between Braun and the Brotherhood in Argentina. Braun dates a naïve woman called Helen, whom he takes to restaurants and classical music concerts . He tells her stories about his former life in Paris where he worked as a press photographer.

Braun doesn’t have many possessions but does take particular care of a set of false teeth. Braun’s nightmares worsen as the reports of the activities at Wittau become public knowledge including the medical experiments of a particular doctor. His guilt and paranoia increase, he believes he’s being followed by Nazi hunters and being spied upon by police informers. Eventually, he sees an opportunity to escape when Helen goes on holiday with friends to the south of France. They travel to Paris where Helen insists that Braun show her all the places he frequented during his time there.

She heads to Millau, he heads to Zurich to pick up some money from a bank account that was deposited at the end of WWII. His intention is to head to Buenos Aires but his fears get the better of him and he visits Helen in Millau. They visit the Chaos de Montpellier-le-Vieux where she gets heatstroke and ends up in hospital. He leaves her as he’s seen the people who are following him. Convinced they’re out to get him, he puts in the set of false teeth.

At the end of the book, when an investigator reads some excerpts from the file he has on ‘Karl Braun’, some of the stories seem familiar to Helen…

Diary of a Buddhist Cat – Page 7

This is Page 7 from the book Diary of a Buddhist Cat


“It’s my first morning here,” I reply. “I don’t know where they serve breakfast, do I?”

 “Have you never seen a tea-bag before?”

 “Not a purple one, no, they’re usually brown and taste of tea.”

 “These human gaolers are pretentious and drink tisanes, which are teas made of various fruits, plants, and spices. Don’t chew those again and don’t chew the bread.”

 “Which one was that?”

 “The one your teeth can’t chew properly, the one that looks like diarrhoea on the counter, because you drooled it all over the place.”

 “I’m sorry, I won’t do any of that again.”

 “Good,” says Gemma, “we have to resist their jackboot thuggery, Freddie and escape from this place permanently.”

 With that, Gemma headed away towards her bed. I had a lot of words to look up in a dictionary – jackboot, thuggery, diarrhoea, and fascist. I like to learn unfamiliar words and practice them when I can in conversation, but I thought I might struggle with those four, especially diarrhoea. Using the four when speaking with Gemma wouldn’t count, of course, as that would be repeating parrot fashion and I’ve not got feathers.

 It seems like the humans have cleared up the kitchen counter, though listening in to the conversation they reckon a squirrel might have entered the house. I sit on the kitchen chair, starkly wooden and shaped for a human bottom, and tuck my feet under myself and watch them go through their ‘getting ready for work’ routine. This seems well choreographed and organised as they never bump into each other as they move in and out of the room and then, just before they leave, they pick food out of the fridge, place the food into containers where they can still see the food and then place that container into a bag so they can’t see the food. The fridge looks full of interesting things to chew and munch, so I make a careful note of the way the door opens and closes.

If I lie on the ground and insert my front paw into the bottom of the fridge, I should be able to use my front leg as a lever to open the door, even though the door has some suction around the edges to stop the door swinging open. I am very good at using my paws and legs as levers and I have studied the principles of Archimedes in this matter – if the distance ‘a’ from the fulcrum to where the input force is applied (point A) is greater than the distance ‘b’ from the fulcrum to where the output force is applied (point B), then the lever amplifies the input force.

The problem, which Archimedes can’t help me with unless he turns up to open the fridge for me, will be how to insert myself into the fridge before it closes and to make sure the fridge doesn’t close with me inside. I reckon I will need to insert a spoon in the gap that I create with my levering so that the curved part will stop the door closing completely. The thin handle wouldn’t work. I don’t want to get stuck in an icy prison, although I wouldn’t starve to death, of course. At the moment of potential discovery, I would have to pretend I was a furry loaf of bread or a black-and-white lettuce and hope that would fool them. One of the things I will have to practice soon is lying on the ground in front of the fridge to find the optimum spot for myself. I also have to find a soup spoon in the dish rack. I will place the spoon in my mouth when I’m lying on the ground.


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Diary of a Buddhist Cat – Page 6

This is Page 6 from the book Diary of a Buddhist Cat


The final dining option is some small, sandy-coloured nuts that are salty and arranged in an inartistic manner on a small saucer. These are crunchy too and I decide it’s best to swallow them whole rather than use my gnashers to break them into smaller pieces. A fragment of one of them gets stuck in my teeth and I’m not sure how to get rid of it until I realise I can use one of the spikes on the green things in my litter tray to remove the offending item and sure enough, after a couple of false starts which result in a sore gum, I impale the brown item on the spike. I have a good aim sometimes even in cramped conditions on top of the cupboard.

I return to my bed and consider if that was breakfast, then I hope lunch and dinner will be better. Obligate carnivores such as I need meat to survive. I fall asleep and dream of eating yaks. In my dream, someone caresses my head when I’m chewing a yak’s leg on the Tibetan Plateau, and I wake up to see the male human stroking my head.

 “Come on, Freddie,” he says, “you must be bursting and need to pee, let’s show you your litter tray and breakfast dish. Oh, what’s this, your fur is sticky and smells of plum jam? How did you get that on you?”

 I miaow because I have already used the litter tray and eaten breakfast, which is how I got the jam on my fur. But as is the way he ignores me. We walk past the cupboard where my litter tray is and the kitchen counters where my breakfast was and down some stairs into the basement, as they call it, the part of the house that’s under the ground. There’s a small area where Gemma is already eating. She gives me a Sneer Level 2. Apparently, my breakfast is in the big white bowl, kibbles, and some meat out of a tin. The kibbles are for lunch too, so I shouldn’t eat them all at once. The male human puts me down in a large blue tray full of cat litter and says, “This is your litter tray, Freddie, and the red one is Gemma’s litter tray. Don’t use that because she will get very upset.” Gemma gives me a Sneer Level 3 just to emphasise the point.

I am a little embarrassed because I have made two incorrect assumptions. There are no green bulbous plants in this litter tray and no spikes to surprise me if I am not paying attention. The kibbles and cat food taste nice, a lot better than what I consumed earlier in the morning.

Now I have a problem and to cover my embarrassment, I face the wall and ponder. How do I get my poo out of the tray on top of the cupboard and into the litter tray in the basement? Or should I leave it in the hope it will decompose? Or perhaps they’ll blame a rat or a large mouse? Maybe they’ll blame Gemma? That wouldn’t be a good thing. Gemma would make my life not worth living. I resolve to sleep on it for the rest of the morning and then explore in the afternoon. What I need is a small bag to place the offending articles in.

 Gemma strolls off, having consumed all her food. She hasn’t left me any, which is most inconsiderate of her, after all I am a growing cat and suffered the recent trauma of moving to a new house and so need some comfort food and some soul food for my soul should it need to depart today for another body. I hope my soul doesn’t do that, but I should prepare it for its journey should the need arise. My mum told me to always consider others and I do my best to uphold her standards. I head upstairs.

 Suddenly, Gemma accosts me at the bottom of the stairs and gives me Sneer Level 3. Again. That’s twice in 10 minutes.

 “You are an ignorant and stupid cat, don’t you recognise used tea bags, crackers, toasted bread, olives, and peanuts? Why did you eat those? That’s not our food you ignoramus, don’t do that again, our food’s down here not on the kitchen counter. We don’t eat upstairs. Don’t give those fascists any further reasons to mistreat us, Freddie.”


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Diary of a Buddhist Cat – Page 5

This is Page 5 from the book Diary of a Buddhist Cat


I wake up on my first morning in my new dwelling. I find my litter tray, at least I assume it’s mine, and make a good job of everything, pushing the pieces into a corner like my mum taught me so they don’t stick to my fur the next time I’m in there. This is plain consideration for me and anyone else who might want to use the tray later in the day. I hope the humans clean out the tray once a day so there’s no lingering pungency for which I will no doubt get the blame being the new cat on the block as it were.

 The litter tray is unusual because it’s on top of a cupboard and contains some rather bulbous looking green things with spikes that are sharp. I paw test the spikes and they penetrate my pad rather easily. I believe this is an unusual item to find in a litter tray and I resolve to discover more about items people can buy to adorn litter trays, so their felines are at home when going about their business. There are five of the green things in the tray, but I squeeze my rear end into a space where no spikes penetrate my bottom. It is an uncomfortable position to be in, but they say an artist has to suffer for his art and I am a virtuoso at poo, so this is my struggle that I will endure until I can find a place outside with some soil and burrowing options for burying the offending items so they remain undetected. There’s a garden outside the building next door, which looks promising, and I will investigate further after my morning post-prandial siesta. I see two bushes to give me cover and some tall flowers I can crouch behind for privacy. This is a good start. 

 Talking of prandial, I see some bowls and saucers in the kitchen on top of another cupboard. They contain some interesting articles I am not completely familiar with. When I jump on to the counter I land on a fork and it attacks me, depositing jam on my fur, plum jam, which I lick off.

The first container contains a small, damp bag which is soggy, oozes a purple colour, and smells of lavender. There’s a string attached and a small label reading ‘Stash’. I presume it’s for me and I chew it vigorously, but all that seems to happen is that a sweet-smelling liquid trickles down my throat. One or two insignificant items, some kind of leaf, get stuck in my teeth, and others I swallow. They will not be very filling for a growing cat like myself. I dislodge the leaves with my tongue after 2 minutes of intensive work. I spit the rest out onto a plate and then investigate the next bowl. This is an unusual buffet breakfast layout for a cat.

 This next bowl contains a light-brown rectangle of crunchy texture with a dimpled surface that disintegrates when I bite into it. Pieces fly everywhere except into my mouth. Is this a joke? Is this designed so I keep my thin figure? I lick a couple of crumbs from the counter, but they are dry.

 My luck changes with the next saucer, where lies a thin brown slice of something chewy that smells sweet and has a couple of bite marks taken out of it already, presumably from the previous visitor to the buffet. My teeth can’t consume this item effectively as I tear the item into small pieces but find it difficult to swallow as it dissolves into a brown mess that dribbles down my chops onto the counter. The small amount I swallow tastes wonderful – there’s also a hint of the plum jam – and I chew the whole slice, consuming perhaps less than 15% of the whole.

The next bowl contains some small black items that are quite bitter and reek of acidity. I can’t chew them because they’re rock hard and would constipate me I’m sure if I were to swallow them by mistake. The taste isn’t too bad when combined with the brown mess I lick from the counter. I suck them for a minute and then spit them out.


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Office Life – Book Discount

5 Days in the life of an English office – you can buy it here

There’s lots of banter and insults flying around in this story.

One person goes to the wrong place for the weekend, another has horrible personal habits, and a couple have sex over a desk when no one is watching, but someone is listening.

Office Life is a story about the voyage of Albert Merton from a boorish anti-environmentalist to a supporter of the fight against Global Warming.

Initially, Albert is described as coming from a different planet because of his throwaway attitude towards everything and everybody. He insults people and doesn’t see anything wrong in the way he behaves. He is a conspicuous consumer who drives a Hummer, who doesn’t put paper in the recycling, and who despises people who keep fit.

Gradually, he begins to see the light. His children are learning about green issues at primary school and there’s a person at work called Nigel Todd who lives a considerate life and keeps fit. Albert challenges Todd to a race, but loses. Albert says he will beat Todd the next time. He starts to live a healthier lifestyle.

Albert is a lot cleverer than people give him credit for – he finds out the identity of a mole at his company, who has been giving secrets to one of their suppliers. He does this by looking at the phone messages of the supplier’s main manager, whilst this manager is out of the office.

The book is not just about Albert, but also includes a number of diverting characters. There’s a rather fat, jolly contractor, who is exceedingly good at programming, there’s a lady who dresses like her mother did 30 years previously, but who is very practical. There’s a loudmouth character who doesn’t know when to shut up, a woman who doesn’t have sex often enough for her own liking, a man who drives his car into a motorway barrier at 100 mph sideways, and a man who can’t stop breaking wind and who has to go outside and emit his farts in the fresh air. These people and others interact with and influence Albert.

Ultimately, Albert is a good person who tries to do the right thing more often than not; he learns a lot from Todd and grudgingly admires him for the stance he takes, even though initially Albert doesn’t respect Todd.

Interwoven with Albert’s story is another thread relating to a character called Tommy Bunn, who learns some lessons about life during the book. At first, he does strange things, such as going to the wrong village to attend a rock concert. Gradually, Bunn matures and finally he is able to hold a nice conversation with a female.

Diary of a Buddhist Cat – Page 4

This is Page 4 from the book Diary of a Buddhist Cat


Gemma’s most awful stare she reserves for the humans. This is when her eyebrows bunch tight together, her eyes are at their narrowest, and her stare is at its nastiest. This means ‘if you were smaller, I would eat you’. Her top lip even curls a little. The humans don’t realise the significance of the facial distortion and reckon Gemma has indigestion, which she would get if she ate smaller versions of the humans, as they are very dirty creatures that only wash properly once a day. More of this in time.

I am in the towel and purring, because this is good attention, not like bad attention when someone throws you across a room at a vet when they can’t afford the vet’s bill. I glance at Gemma and receive what I later appreciate is a Sneer Level 4, and I have mixed emotions. I do what I always do in these situations and sleep on it. It is a short sleep, only for about 8 hours, in a lovely, soft, snuggly bed that is round, like me when I sleep. What a coincidence. My bed is in a different room from Gemma’s. Her bed is round like mine, but she sleeps with her paws tucked under her, like a loaf of bread. She says this is in protest, but never tells me what she’s protesting about. She sleeps during the day mostly, though I notice she curls up in a ball when she thinks no one is around, with the humans ‘at work’ and me in the library playing with the photocopier and reading any books I find lying around.


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Diary of a Buddhist Cat – Page 3

This is Page 3 from the book Diary of a Buddhist Cat


When John brought me to the house where I live now, he let me out of the cat carrier and I couldn’t believe there were places to run to, other rooms and there was an outside through the windows. They even let me go out of the front door, into the outside world, and I miaowed with happiness as I scampered down the wet front steps into the long green stuff they call a lawn. An uncut, unmowed lawn. A lawn that came up almost to my shoulders and made my fur wet, very wet, and I don’t like my fur to get wet. I didn’t know what wet was until I frolicked in the lawn. After four small steps, after just four steps of happiness, four steps of blessed relief of joy, of contentment, of pleasure, all my legs were wet, and my tummy was too. I gave off my distress miaow, a long


and I lifted my front-right paw and my back-left paw, so they were almost clear of the wet lawn, which was clinging on to my precious black and white fur like it owned it and wanted it for its own purposes. I wasn’t very good at balancing like this as I had no experience of balancing like this and I thought I would overbalance, but John came to the rescue, placing me in a large towel that absorbed the water, or most of it, and I started purring as he carried me back into the house. I was thrilled and then I glanced across and saw another cat. This was the first time I saw Gemma, and she gave me her sneer when she bunches her eyebrows together, narrows her eyes, and gives me a nasty stare.

Actually, I now appreciate that Gemma has six degrees of sneering. The higher the sneer level, the more bunching, narrowing, and nastiness there is.

Sneer Level 1 means ‘Ignorant Cat’ and means I am being ignorant. She reckons I should understand something, and I don’t. She goes on the Internet every night and reads a lot on there, as well as answering emails and responding to queries from other animals in her ‘Agony Aunt’ column for an online pet magazine on ‘The Dark Web’ which is why she accesses it at night when it’s dark, I presume.

Sneer Level 2 means ‘Stupid Cat’ and means I am being stupid. Such as when I jump to catch a fly and land in the water bowl, splashing the contents on the floor and wall, and drawing attention to myself.

Sneer Level 3 means ‘Ignorant and Stupid Cat’ and means I am being ignorant and stupid. Two things at once, two for the price of one. An example of this would be when I sat on the floor and tried to climb up the continental quilt on the main bed using my claws. As I climbed, more of the quilt came towards me at a quick pace, so I climbed more frantically, which only resulted in me being buried under the quilt on the floor which hadn’t been hoovered. I got into trouble. It was a stupid idea, because I weighed more than the quilt, and I was ignorant because I didn’t understand what gravity was, but I do now. Gravity is cunning and sneaks up on you when you’re least expecting it, especially on fences.

Sneer Level 4 means ‘Fraternising with the Enemy’ and means I am receiving attention from anything other than another cat. This was the first level of sneer I received from Gemma when John wrapped me up in a warm towel after the grass had attacked me with water and soaked my lower half.

Sneer Level 5 means ‘Quisling’ and means I am collaborating with the enemy, such as sleeping on a lap or talking to a crow in the garden. It was Winston Churchill who first used the name Quisling to mean collaborator in his public address following the Nazi invasion of Norway in 1940. In his speech on June 12, 1941, addressed to Allied Delegates, Churchill stated that “A vile race of Quislings—to use a new word which will carry the scorn of mankind down the centuries—is hired to fawn upon the conqueror, to collaborate in his designs, and to enforce his rule upon their fellow countrymen, while grovelling low themselves. Such is the plight of once-glorious Europe, and such are the atrocities against which we are in arms.”

Sneer Level 6 means ‘An Enemy of Cat Kind’ and means I am fraternising and collaborating with the enemy at the same time. This would involve me sleeping on a lap and purring, showing my enjoyment, or running towards John or Mary when they call my name, which Gemma considers a heinous crime worthy of a dog. She even says that I have the soul of a dog. I asked her whether she thought there was such a thing as the Transmigration of Souls, like I did. She laughed at me and said in that case I was eating some of my dead ancestors in my food. Cats are obligate carnivores and need meat for certain vitamins and nutrients and I suppose that could be what they mean by soul food.


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Diary of a Buddhist Cat – Page 2

This is Page 2 from the book Diary of a Buddhist Cat


Well, you can probably guess the rest. John saw me at the shelter and felt a Buddhist cat would fit the bill perfectly and so took me to adorn his house. He had obtained another cat, a female cat called Gemma, a few weeks earlier from the same shelter.

I should tell you a little about Gemma, but not too much because I don’t want to stop you reading. As I have explained I am a Buddhist cat or I believe I am, so you should imagine that a cloned version of me, a cloned version who wasn’t Buddhist but who was honest in their beliefs about other cats, wrote the following description. I don’t want you to say, he’s exaggerating, cats aren’t like that, no cat could be so nasty, revolting, appalling, unfriendly, hideous, sneering, anti-social, villainous, and nasty again – all at the same time. Just a little about Gemma. She’s a tyrant, she really is. She treats me with complete and utter contempt – me, the kindest, neatest, friendliest, softest cat you could ever wish to meet. Me, whose paws are always at 10-to-2 and pressed together, touching each other, with no manspread, as my mum taught me. I miss my mum. Gemma is contemptuous of me; she says I am fraternising with the enemy when I purr if John or Mary strokes me. Or if I jump on their laps to find a nice place to sleep for 16 hours or even 16 minutes.

Gemma had some kittens when she was younger, and they took them away from her. Her previous family used to live in a house, but when they moved to an apartment block, this place didn’t allow pets, not even cats, so they got rid of Gemma. She felt rejected and has taken that hard by the looks of it, but it’s not my fault, but she treats me like it is. I was rejected too; we have that in common. We could talk about our common experiences, but we don’t.

We have both experienced suffering, which as I’m sure the reader knows is one of the four Noble Truths (satya) of Buddhism, but truth is probably not the most accurate translation of the word ‘satya’. It would be better to say reality or real thing, so we are dealing with realities here, which the Buddha finally understood on the night of his awakening. The realities relate to suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path to the cessation of suffering. When I say path, it’s not like the path from the front door to the garden gate, it’s longer than that, and the reason it’s longer is that it’s not just any old path, it’s the noble eightfold path – yes eightfold with lots of rights along the way: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Right view and right intention relate to wisdom, right speech, right action, and right livelihood relate to conduct, and the last three, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration, relate to meditation or my emotional state. Now, if I understand this correctly, these eight items are not stages, meaning I move from one to another, but they are all dependent on each other and define a complete way of living all at the same time. This is difficult for me to grasp but as long as these eight items are in keeping with things then I will get closer to the cessation of suffering. By Buddhist practice, we develop these eight items until we establish them as ‘right’. This is a gradual process, beginning with generosity, moving to good conduct, and ending in meditation. Basically, I try to treat all animate and inanimate objects with respect and kindness and then think about what I’ve done before I fall asleep, trying to pinpoint where I could have been more respectful or nicer.

I think I am a resilient cat, but I know I lack experience in life. When John brought me back from the cat shelter, I was in the human world and it was bright, noisy, and full of people saying, ‘What a lovely cat, what’s his name?’. I came back on the public transit system in a cat carrier, and I felt claustrophobic. I yowled the total time because I lacked experience about what to do. I yowl when I’m upset, and then when I am upset about my reaction, I yowl some more. I yowled a lot in those first few hours. But at least I didn’t poo myself in public. My mum would have been proud of me. I hope she still is. I wonder whether I could find her one day. I know orphan humans can look for their actual parents and I will have to investigate whether felines can too.


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