The Midwich Cuckoos 

This week’s book review is of British 1950’s sci-fi novel The Midwich Cuckoos. I came across a battered 1970’s edition of John Wyndham’s novel in the Ryedale Dog Rescue charity shop in March. I don’t usually read sci-fi, but I thought I’d give The Midwich Cuckoos a go. Sometimes  the best reads happen by chance.

The premise of the plot is pretty simple. An alien craft lands near the sleepy English village of Midwich, rendering all it’s inhabitants unconscious. Apart from a few accidental deaths, people recover quickly, with seemingly no ill effects. However, this is just the start of a strange series of events that effects the entire village for years.

I won’t spoil the plot for you, but the events of the story involve a struggle between the inhabitants of the village and invading aliens, with the usual dramatic conclusion. What I like about Wyndham’s novel is that the conflict is much more subtle and psychological than the usual run of 1950’s ‘robots with death rays’ stories. Wyndham raises some interesting questions about the limits of human intelligence and evolution. It’s a good story that makes you think, and they aren’t always easy to come by.

The Midwich Cuckoos is a fairly short book and the story moves along pretty quickly, even though   the events take place over about ten years. At times the book seems a bit dated, which isn’t a problem if you approach it for what it is: a piece of groundbreaking sci-fi from  60 years ago. It also seems quite quaint at times: with its rural village setting it almost feels like an Agatha Christie novel with added spacemen.

On second thoughts though, this is one of it’s strengths. Midwich is an ordinary, actually very dull, place, and it’s this ordinariness that makes the growing horror of the situation seem worse.  Faced with something literally out of this world, most villagers behave in a thoroughly civilised way. In the end it’s this approach that puts the world at risk, and only a violent conclusion is possible. I suppose it raises the question about whether it’s possible to adopt a humane approach to an inhuman species, who works to its own ruthless rules.

Despite it’s faults I enjoyed The Midwich Cuckoos. It reminded me of the almost cosy scares I got watching Dr Who as a kid.

If you fancy a shot at reading about Martians vs the Home Counties, why not give The Midwich Cuckoos a try. John Wyndham wrote several sci-fi novels along similar lines, the most famous probably being The Day of the Triffids. I enjoyed my trip back in time to face a possible version of our future, and found myself being entertained and challenged at the same time.

Writing to the Moment

I’ve received a lot of feedback about my daily posts when we were in Italy: most of you enjoyed them, and they were fun to write.

It just shows that it’s good to try something different from time to time. Normally most of my blog posts are planned and written in advance. It’s probably the safest way of making sure I’ve something to publish each week, but it lacks the spontaneity of daily posts. There’s a greater sense of immediacy about them: what eighteenth century author Samuel Richardson termed ‘writing to the moment’. It’s not quite the same, as being there, but I hope you felt almost as if you were on holiday with us.

Having done it once, daily posts are something that I’ll try again. We’re off to Rhodes in September, and that seems the perfect opportunity.

For the moment though, I’m going to move back to twice weekly posts. This week I’ll be publishing a review of John Wyndham’s classic sci-fi novel The Midwich Cuckoos. That will appear this Friday, 30th June.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to focus on researching our family history, as I’ve slipped back on this a little. What I really need to do is sit at my desk and work through the research. The trouble is that, although there are times when this is genuinely exciting, a lot of the time family research is a time consuming and methodical slog through thousands of documents. It’s got to be done though: it’s too easy to miss one small detail that can totally derail your efforts.

I think family research makes a better winter activity than a summer one. There are two many other distractions at this time of year. But I’m not going to give up: I’ll just have to try and cultivate some more self discipline.

So it’s back to the desk for me. In the meantime, have a good week.



Italy, day fourteen: 21/06/17

We’re back at home in not so sunny North Yorkshire, after two magnificent weeks in Florence and Bologna. We’ve got some magnificent memories and over 1000 pictures to remember our trip by. 

Today’s photo will be the last of my daily postings: next week we’re back to normal, but I’ll write some extended articles about Italy later in the year. 

One of the features of Bologna that’s really noticeable are the miles of arched colonades that provide covered walkways all round the city. The biggest of them all, the longest colonaded walkway in the world, stretches almost four kilometres from the city centre to the hilltop shrine of St Luca. Today’s picture is a stretch of that walkway. 

Italy, day thirteen: 20/06/17

I always try to bring you high culture in this blog, so todays picture is of the Anatomical theatre of the Archiginnasio. 

Bologna is apparently the oldest university in Europe and, during the   Renaissance the Archiginnasio housed most of the university faculties. 

This beautiful lecture theatre is where medical lectures took place, including dissections. 

It might seem gory now, but places like this helped build the foundations of modern medical knowledge.

Day twelve, Monday 19/06/17

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Italy. We’ve had a great trip so far, and seen some great sights. 

I’ve just got one little gripe….

One of the highlights of Florence is the great fountain of Neptune, in the Palazzo Signoria. Absolutely one of the highlights of sixteenth century Florentine sculpture. So clearly I’m dead keen to photograph it. 

This is what we found. 

Yep, covered up because of a major restoration. Bugger, bugger, bugger! 

Never mind, when we get to Bologna, one of the top attractions is the fountain of Neptune. Absolutely one of the highlights of sixteenth century Bolognese sculpture. 

Well, you guessed it…

Covered up for a major restoration! 

It turns out that master renaissance sculptor, Giambologna, had a hand in creating both fountains. The moral of the story is don’t use him for any building work on your house. 450 years later it will need redoing.

Italy, day eleven: 18/06/17

It’s been another steady day in Bologna. We sauntered through the city to one the parks and then sauntered back for a reviving glass of Pignoletto. This evening we ventured out to sample some more city nightlife. 

Bologna is sometimes called the Red City, because many of it’s buildings are made of red bricks or stone.

Today’s photograph is of the last rays of the evening sun catching the top of the church near to our apartment. Buildings are so closely packed in the older parts of the city that, in the evenings only the tops of them are not in deep shadow. 

Italy, day ten: 17/0617

Bologna at night. What an amazing place. Liz and I went out for a meal and then sauntered back through the city. I’m not sure whether I’ve seen anywhere so alive with people out enjoying themselves. 

On a rare decent British summer night I’ve seen crowds of people out having fun, but this seems more like a feature. 

We saw people at tables in crowded lanes enjoying great food, a talented group of break dancers, and a crowd of hundreds seated in a square listening to a film director being interviewed as part of the city’s film week. Finally, we came across some kind of rally, with a speaker addressing a huge crowd from the two towers. I don’t know who he was, but the crowd was immense. 

I’ve never seen a place as alive as this for years. 

Today’s pictures taken on my phone are of people out enjoying food and drink with friends and the crowds at the rally.