Altered Carbon

I have recently finished the Neflix adaptation of Altered Carbon. This glossy, exciting and stylish dystopian science fiction, crime noir techno-thriller is based on the novel of the same name by Richard K. Morgan. It is set In a future where a company called Phsycasec has developed a technology which allows peoples memories, personalities, thoughts to be collated into electronic devices called stacks and transferred into a new body when they die (this process is known as resleeving). However the process is hideously expensive and the data gets corrupted after a while, so even though you can in theory live for ever, only the mega wealthy are able to do it. These people are referred to as Meths (after Methuselah). However Once a stack is corrupted it cannot be repaired and a malware called Rawlings also destroys stacks.

One such Meth is a mega wealthy industrialist named Laurens Bancroft who suspects he was murdered, despite a police verdict of suicide. So Bancroft employs the services of a Tactical Assault Corp/ex-special services soldier/freedom fighter named Takeshi Kovacs to investigate. However Kovacs was imprisoned 250 years previously for terrorism after a chap named Jagger, his sister Rei and a woman named Quell convinced him to switch sides from the Tactical Assault Corps and join them in an idealistic uprising against the corruption of the Meths and the system in general and to create a more fair society, by trying to destroy Psychasec.

Once Kovacs is revived and resleeved he is sent to Bancroft who lives in a mansion high in the sky. Kovacs also investigates the suspicious death of a prostitute named Mary Lou Hinchley and learns that a chap named Elliot also threatened Laurens Bancroft over the death of his daughter Lizzy, whose body was found dumped in the Red Light District under suspicious circumstances. Kovacs soon finds himself in mortal danger after he is invited to a party at Bancroft’s mansion after he gets involved in a brutal and sadistic gladiatorial battle to the death, thanks to an Artificial intelligence named Madison who runs a place called Fight Drome. Kovacs is then captured and tortured by local crime lord and gangster named Dmitry Kadmin and his thugs. Laurens’ son Isaac Bancroft is also suspected of Killing Laurens Bancroft after Kovacs discovers a devious plan involving clones. Meanwhile Lieutenant Ortega and her partner Samir Abboud also find themselves in mortal danger from a mysterious assailant.

So Eliot Joins forces with Kovacs and an Artificial intelligence named Poe and Lieutenant Ortega to investigate. Meanwhile Kovacs is offered an interesting proposition by Miriam Bancroft, Laurens Wife. However Ortega investigates Miriam and makes a startling discovery Then Ortega’s family is killed by a mysterious ghostwalker named Lueng. Poe also attempts to aid Lizzy’s recovery. As Kovacs investigates he also learns a number of things regarding the Bancroft murder, Miriam, Laurens, Dmitry Kadman, Lueng, the murder of Mary Lou, Fight Drome, Rei, and Police corruption and discovers that people may not be what they seem. His investigation lead him to a luxury Resort called Head-in-the-clouds where he discovers mega rich meths involved in all kinds of vice, drugs, murder, corruption, prostitution, blackmail and every other conceivable criminal activity.

Dick Francis CBE FRSL

British steeplechase jockey and crime writer, Richard Stanley “Dick” Francis CBE FRSL sadly passed away on 14 February 2010, At his Caribbean home in Grand Cayman. He was Born 31 October 1920 in Coedcanlas, Pembrokeshire, Wales, the son of a jockey and stable manager and grew up in Berkshire, England. He left school at 15 without any qualifications,with the intention of becoming a jockey and became a trainer in 1938. During World War II, Francis volunteered, hoping to join the cavalry. Instead, he served in the Royal Air Force, working as ground crew and later piloting fighter and bomber aircraft, including the Spitfire and Hurricane. He said in an interview that he spent much of his six years in the Air Force in Africa. In October 1945, he met Mary Margaret Brenchley (17 June 1924 – 30 September 2000), at a cousin’s wedding And Dick and Mary were married in June, 1947, in London. She had a degree in English and French from London University at the age of 19, was an assistant stage manager and later worked as a publisher’s reader. She also became a pilot, and her experiences flying contributed to many novels, including Flying Finish, Rat Race, and Second Wind. She contracted polio while pregnant with their first child, a plight dramatized in the novel Forfeit, which Francis called one of his favorites. They had two sons, Merrick and Felix.

After leaving the RAF in 1946, Francis became a celebrity in the world of British National Hunt racing, winning over 350 races, becoming champion jockey in the 1953–54 season. Shortly after becoming a professional, he was offered the prestige job of first jockey to Vivian Smith, Lord Bicester. From 1953 to 1957 he was jockey to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. His most famous moment came while riding the Queen Mother’s horse, Devon Loch, in the 1956 Grand National when the horse inexplicably fell when close to winning the race. Decades later, Francis considered losing that race his greatest regret and called it “a disaster of massive proportions. Like most jump jockeys, Francis had his share of injuries. He was hospitalized at the age of 12 when a pony fell on him and broke his jaw and nose. Many protagonists in his novels have broken bones and damaged organs . Dick Francis played an important role in 1983, when the Grand National at Aintree Racecourse “stood at the brink of extinction,” So ‘”Britain’s Jockey Club negotiated a $14 million deal to buy the land and save the race forever. by enlisting two prominent racing personalities – Lord Derby and novelist Dick Francis – were selected to raise the money in a worldwide campaign.” Other philanthropists, including Charles C. Fenwick Jr., who rode Ben Nevis to victory in the 1980 Grand National, and Paul Mellon, a breeder and racing enthusiast, also contributed to save the race.

After retiring from horse racing on the advice of Lord Abergevenny Francis Went onto Write more than 40 international best-sellers. His first book was his autobiography The Sport of Queens (1957), for which he was offered the aid of a ghostwriter, which he spurned. The book’s success led to his becoming the racing correspondent for London’s Sunday Express newspaper, and he remained in the job for 16 years.In 1962, he published his first thriller, Dead Cert, set in the world of racing. Subsequently he regularly produced a novel a year for the next 38 years, missing only 1998 (during which he published a short-story collection). Although all his books were set against a background of horse racing, his male heroes held a variety of jobs including artist (In the Frame and To the Hilt), private investigator (Odds Against, Whip Hand, Come to Grief, Under Orders—all starring injured ex-jockey Sid Halley, investigator who appears in the Jockey Club (The Edge), pilot (Rat Race and Flying Finish), wine merchant (Proof). All the novels are narrated by the hero, who in the course of the story discovers himself to be more resourceful, brave, tricky, than he had thought, and usually finds a certain salvation for himself as well as bestowing it on others. Details of other people’s occupations fascinated Francis, and the reader finds himself or herself immersed in the mechanics of such things as photography, accountancy, the gemstone trade, restaurant service on transcontinental trains—but always in the interests of the plot. Dysfunctional families were a subject which he exploited particularly well (Reflex, a baleful grandmother; Hot Money, a multi-millionaire father and serial ex-husband; Decider, the related co-owners of a racecourse).

His first novel, Dead Cert, was also adapted for film in 1974. Directed by Tony Richardson, it starred Scott Antony, Judi Dench and Michael Williams. It was adapted again as Favorit (a Russian made-for-television movie) in 1977 Francis’s protagonist Sid Halley was featured in six TV movies made for the program The Dick Francis Thriller: The Racing Game(1979-1980), starring Mike Gwilym as Halley and Mick Ford as his partner, Chico Barnes. Three more TV films of 1989 were adaptations of Bloodsport, In the Frame, and Twice Shy, all starring Ian McShane and featuring protagonist David Cleveland, from the novel Slayride.

Francis is the only three-time recipient of the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for Best Novel, winning for Forfeit in 1970,Whip Hand in 1981, and Come To Grief in 1996. Britain’s Crime Writers Association awarded him its Gold Dagger Award for fiction in 1979 and the Cartier Diamond Dagger Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. he was granted another Lifetime Achievement Award .Tufts University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1991. In 1996 he was given the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award, the highest honour bestowed by the MWA. In 2000, he was granted the Malice Domestic Award for Lifetime Achievement. He was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1983 and promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 2000. Francis has been long accustomed to celebrity as a British sports star, but today he is a worldwide phenomenon, having been published in 22 languages. In Australia, he is recognized in restaurants, from his book-jacket picture. He and Mary will see people reading the novels on planes and trains.”Francis was elected in 1999 a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature’ . In the 1980s, Francis and his wife moved to Florida; in 1992, they moved to the Cayman Islands, where Mary died of a heart attack in 2000. In 2006, Francis had a heart bypass operation; in 2007 his right leg was amputated.

P. G. Wodehouse KBE

English Novelist, humorist and lyricist, Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE sadly passed away on 14th February 1975. He was Born 15th October 1881. His work includes novels, short stories, plays, poems, song lyrics, and numerous pieces of journalism. He enjoyed enormous popular success during a career that lasted more than seventy years and his many writings continue to be widely read. Despite the political and social upheavals that occurred during his life, much of which was spent in France and the United States, Wodehouse’s novels are mainly set in pre- and post-World War I English upper-class society, reflecting his birth, education and youthful writing career. An acknowledged master of English prose, Wodehouse has been admired both by contemporaries such as Hilaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh, Rudyard Kipling, Stephen Fry, Christopher Hitchens, Douglas Adams, J. K. Rowling, and John Le Carré.

P. G. Wodehouse is Best known today for the Jeeves and fictional Blandings Castle novels and short stories. The Blandings Castle Saga was written between 1915 and 1975 and is set in the fictinal Blandings Castle which is the ancestral seat of Lord Emsworth (Clarence Threepwood, 9th Earl of Emsworth), and is situated in the picturesque Vale of Blandings, Shropshire, England, two miles from the town of Market Blandings, home to at least nine pubs, most notably the Emsworth Arms. The tiny hamlet of Blandings Parva lies directly outside the castle gates and the town of Much Matchingham, home to Matchingham Hall, the residence of Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe, is also nearby.

The castle is a noble pile, of Early Tudor building (“its history is recorded in England’s history books and Viollet-le-Duc has written of its architecture”, according to Something Fresh). One of England’s largest stately homes, it dominates the surrounding country, standing on a knoll of rising ground at the southern end of the celebrated Vale of Blandings; the Severn gleams in the distance. From its noble battlements, the Wrekin can be seen.

The famous moss-carpeted Yew Alley (subject to the devious gravelling schemes of Angus McAllister) leads to a small wood with a rough gamekeeper’s cottage, which Psmith made use of, not to write poetry as he at first claimed, but to stash stolen jewellery. Another gamekeeper’s cottage, in the West Wood, makes a pleasant home for the Empress of Blandings for a spell. The rose garden is another famous beauty spot, ideal for courting lovers. There is a lake, where Lord Emsworth often takes a brisk swim in the mornings.

The house has numerous guest rooms, many of which haven’t been used since Queen Elizabeth roamed the country. Of those still in use, the Garden Room is the finest, usually given to the most prestigious guest; it has a balcony outside its French windows, which can be easily accessed via a handy drainpipe. The main library has a smaller library leading off it, and windows overlooking some flowerbeds; it is here that Lord Emsworth is often to be found on wet days, his nose deep in an improving tome of country lore, his favourite being Whiffle on The Care of the Pig.

Wodehouse was also a playwright and lyricist who was part author and writer of 15 plays and of 250 lyrics for some 30 musical comedies, many of them produced in collaboration with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton. He worked with Cole Porter on the musical Anything Goes (1934), wrote the lyrics for the hit song “Bill” in Kern’s Show Boat (1927), wrote lyrics to Sigmund Romberg’s music for the Gershwin – Romberg musical Rosalie (1928) and collaborated with Rudolf Friml on a musical version of The Three Musketeers (1928). He is also in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. P. G. Wodehouse continues to enjoy enormous popular success and his Jeeves an Wooster novels are still widely read. Jeeves and Wooster was also adapted for a television series starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, and the musical comedies to which he contributed also remain popular to this day.

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Lent in Western Christianity. It occurs 46 days (40 fasting days, if the six Sundays, which are not days of fast, are excluded) before Easter and can fall as early as February 4 or as late as March 10. Ash Wednesday is observed by many Western Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics. According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Lent originated as a mirroring of this, fasting 40 days as preparation for Easter. Every Sunday was seen as a commemoration of the Sunday of Christ’s resurrection and so as a feast day on which fasting was inappropriate. Accordingly, Christians fasted from Monday to Saturday (six days) during six weeks and from Wednesday to Saturday (four days) in the preceding week, thus making up the number of 40 days. Orthodox do this 40 days in a row.

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday, and placing them on the heads of participants to the accompaniment of the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.

Ashes are ceremonially placed on the heads of Christians on Ash Wednesday, either by being sprinkled over their heads or, in English-speaking countries, more often by being marked on their foreheads as a visible cross. The old formula, based on the words spoken to Adam and Eve after their sin, reminds worshippers of their sinfulness and mortality and thus, implicitly, of their need to repent in time. Various manners of placing the ashes on worshippers’ heads are in use within the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, the two most common being to use the ashes to make a cross on the forehead and sprinkling the ashes over the crown of the head. Originally, the ashes were strewn over men’s heads, but, probably because women had their heads covered in church, were placed on the foreheads of women. In the Catholic Church the manner of imposing ashes depends largely on local custom, since no fixed rule has been laid down. Although the account of Ælfric of Eynsham shows that in about the year 1000 the ashes were “strewn” on the head, the marking of the forehead is the method that now prevails in English-speaking countries and is the only one envisaged in the Occasional Offices of the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, a publication described as “noticeably Anglo-Catholic in character”. In its ritual of “Blessing of Ashes”, this states that “the ashes are blessed at the beginning of the Eucharist; and after they have been blessed they are placed on the forehead of the clergy and people.” The Ash Wednesday ritual of the Church of England, Mother Church of the Anglican Communion, contains “The Imposition of Ashes” in its Ash Wednesday liturgy.

On Ash Wednesday, the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, traditionally takes part in a penitential procession from the Church of Saint Anselm to the Basilica of Santa Sabina, where, in accordance with the custom in Italy and many other countries, ashes are sprinkled on his head, not smudged on his forehead, and he places ashes on the heads of others. The Anglican ritual, used in Papua New Guinea states that, after the blessing of the ashes, “the priest marks his own forehead and then the foreheads of the servers and congregation who come and kneel, or stand, where they normally receive the Blessed Sacrament. Pre-1970 editions had much more elaborate instructions about the order in which the participants were to receive the ashes. The 1969 revision of the Roman Rite inserted into the Mass the solemn ceremony of blessing ashes and placing them on heads, The Book of Blessings contains a simple rite. While the solemn rite would normally be carried out within a church building, the simple rite could appropriately be used almost anywhere. While only a priest or deacon may bless the ashes, laypeople may do the placing of the ashes on a person’s head. Even in the solemn rite, lay men or women may assist the priest in distributing the ashes. In addition, laypeople take blessed ashes left over after the collective ceremony and place them on the head of the sick or of others who are unable to attend the blessing.

Those who attend such Catholic services, whether in a church or elsewhere, traditionally take blessed ashes home with them to place on the heads of other members of the family. The Catholic Church and the Methodist Church say that the ashes should be those of palm branches blessed at the previous years Palm Sunday service. while a Church of England publication says they “may be made” from the burnt palm crosses of the previous year. Where ashes are placed on the head by smudging the forehead with a sign of the cross, many Christians choose to keep the mark visible throughout the day. The churches have not imposed this as an obligatory rule, and the ashes may even be wiped off immediately after receiving them. traditional Ash Wednesday church service may include Psalm 51 (the Miserere), prayers of confession and the sign of ashes. The Anglican Church’s traditional Ash Wednesday service, titled A Commination, contains the first two elements, while the Catholic Church’s traditional service has the blessing and distribution of ashes but, while prayers of confession and recitation of Psalm 51 (the first psalm at Lauds on all penitential days, including Ash Wednesday) are a part of a traditional Ash Wednesday

In the mid-16th century, the first Book of Common Prayer removed the ceremony of the ashes from the liturgy of the Church of England and replaced it with what would later be called the Commination Office. This was headed: “The First Day of Lent: Commonly Called Ash-Wednesday”. The ashes ceremony was not forbidden, but was not included in the church’s official liturgy and was replaced by the reading of biblical curses of God against sinners, to each of which the people were directed to respond with Amen. Ashes were used in ancient times to express grief. When Tamar was raped by her half-brother, “she sprinkled ashes on her head, tore her robe, and with her face buried in her hands went away crying” (2 Samuel 13:19).

The gesture was also used to express sorrow for sins and faults. In Job 42:3–6, Job says to God: “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” The prophet Jeremiah calls for repentance by saying: “O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, roll in the ashes” (Jer 6:26). The prophet Daniel recounted pleading to God: “I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). Just prior to the New Testament period, the rebels fighting for Jewish independence, the Maccabees, prepared for battle using ashes: “That day they fasted and wore sackcloth; they sprinkled ashes on their heads and tore their clothes” (1 Maccabees 3:47. Examples of the practice among Jews are found in Numbers 19:9, 19:17, Jonah 3:6, Book of Esther 4:1, and Hebrews 9:13. Jesus is quoted as speaking of the practice in Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13: Christians continued the practice of using ashes as an external sign of repentance. Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225) said that confession of sin should be accompanied by lying in sackcloth and ashes.

Saint Valentine’s Day

St. Valentine’s Day traditionally celebrates Romance and love and takes place annually on 14 February. Saint Valentine (in Latin, Valentinus) is the name of several martyred saints of ancient Rome. The name “Valentine”, derived from valens (worthy, strong, powerful), was popular in Late Antiquity. Saint Valentine was martyred and buried on the Via Flaminia north of Rome on February 14. Born April 16, Martyr Valentinus the Presbyter and those with him at Rome” remains in the list of saints proposed for veneration by all Catholics. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Valentine the Presbyter is celebrated on July 6, and Hieromartyr Saint Valentine (Bishop of Interamna, Terni in Italy) is celebrated on July 30. Notwithstanding that, conventionally, members of the Greek Orthodox Church named Valentinos (male) or Valentina (female) celebrate their name on February 14.

The feast of St. Valentine was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, who included Valentine among those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” As Gelasius implied, nothing was known, even then, about the lives of any of these martyrs. The Saint Valentine that appears in various martyrologies in connection with Feb 14 and is described either as: A priest in Rome, A bishop of In Terrama (modern Terni), or A martyr in the Roman province of Africa. The first representation of Saint Valentine appeared in the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493); alongside the woodcut portrait of Valentine, the text states that he was a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, known as Claudius Gothicus. He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome. At first Claudius took rather a liking to Valentinus and gave him a chance to make amends and redeem himself. However he pushed his luck a bit too far when he tried to convert the Emperor to Christianity, whereupon he was condemned to death. First He was beaten with clubs then he was stoned (and not in a good way), then he was beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate (which was not particularly good either). Being beaten up, stoned and beheaded doesn’t sound particularly romantic to me, anyway….

In the Middle Ages, two Roman churches were dedicated to Saint Valentine. One was the tenth-century church Sancti Valentini de Balneo Miccine or de Piscina, which was rededicated by Pope Urban III in 1186. The other, on the Via Flaminia, was the ancient basilica S. Valentini extra Portam founded by Pope Julius I, though not under this dedication. Hagiographical sources also speak of a Roman priest and a bishop of Terni each buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome, at different distances from the city, with each venerated on February 14th. The basilica appellatur Valentini, “is called Valentine’s” This, the earlier and by far more important of the churches, is dedicated to the less prominent of the two saints, Valentine, presbyter of Rome. There is also the Basilica S. Valentini extra Portam, the “Basilica of Saint Valentine beyond the Gate” which was situated beyond the Porta Flaminia (the Porta del Popolo.

Many of the current legends that characterise Saint Valentine were invented in the fourteenth century in England, notably by Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when the feast day of February 14 first became associated with romantic love. However there are those who say that the traditions associated with “Valentine’s Day”, documented in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules and set in the fictional context of an old tradition, had no such tradition before Chaucer. In 1836, some remains that were exhumed from the catacombs of Saint Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina, then near (rather than inside) Rome, were identified with St Valentine; placed in a casket, and transported to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, to which they were donated by Pope Gregory XVI. To this day Many tourists visit the saintly remains on St. Valentine’s Day, when the casket is carried in solemn procession to the high altar for a special Mass dedicated to young people and all those in love.