February, 2012

Gmail’s Worst Feature

The more I see it, the more I hate and loathe Gmail’s utterly awful and relatively recent innovation, its “Consider including” functionality.
It pops into a space under the “To” box when I add an address to an email. I think Google think it’s useful in some way.
It’s not.
Here’s the thing: when I choose to write an email, I know exactly who I want to send it to. I don’t need a computer to suggest who I might want to cc in with it. Even if I regularly send all my email to two people, there are times when I only want to send it to one of them.
As it happens, I’d wager that 90%+ of my Gmail is sent to a single email address. At work, sure, I send email to several people at once, or group mailing lists. But in my personal life, it’s mostly one to one conversations.
I don’t even understand why it’s advantageous for Gmail to suggest additional names for an email. “We notice you’re sending an email to your partner, have you considered also sending it to their parents, their brother, their uncle and their niece?” “Why? No I hadn’t. Thank you for helping me think!”
I’ll give you an example about how utterly useless it is. I regularly send or forward emails from my personal Gmail account to my work email account. Sometimes it might be a link that I’ll follow up later at work. Other times, it’s forwarding something on to myself that will prove useful to either me or someone else at work. I send a reasonable quantity of mail “to myself” in this manner. And I do the same in reverse. It helps me order my life to some extent.
Every time I send a Gmail message to my work account, Gmail suggests cc’ing my boss. That would be utterly inappropriate 99% of the time. If I want to forward something to my boss, I’ll choose to do it myself. Apart from anything else, I prefer to use my work email account for conversing with my boss. Gmail just doesn’t know better.
Gmail also suggests forwarding all these emails to someone I simply don’t know at all. How the algorithm has come up with this name, I know not. It’s possible I once communicated with them, in some way, at some time. But I don’t remember it. And I definitely don’t know them. The algorithm is flawed to think otherwise.
And I can’t switch off this “feature”. I certainly can’t tell Gmail that it got the suggestion wrong. So every email sent to myself like this, without fail, suggests these names that are utterly irrelevant.
Even worse, one slip of the mouse or keypad, and I might actually inadvertently include one or more of them on my email.
Extensive searching just finds lots of other users also looking at ways to either remove it or “optionlize” it. The only thing we can do is use Google “Suggest a Feature for Gmail” site, and suggest that they do this. You have to manually suggest it, and I have done. I suggest you do too if you find it as irritating as I do. I could understand it if this was a Labs feature. A user choice. I can’t think of who might actually want this functionality, but I suppose someone might.
So someone at Google, please at least allow an option to turn it off.
It’s intrusive, invasive (far more so than your advertising based around keywords in the email, which at least pays for the service), and is doing a disservice to Gmail.
PS Yes, there are a few CSS or Greasemonkey scripts kicking around which turn off this “feature”, but surely this should be built into the product?

Olympic Stadium and Velodrome

Olympic Stadium
At the weekend, I was lucky enough to get along to a day of the UCI Track World Cup series in the new Olympic Velodrome as part of the London Prepares series. Lots of photos to come. But in the meantime, the buildings looked stunning – the velodrome in particular.
Velodrome

Promise TV

[I wrote this on Google+, but decided it should probably exist, in a revised version, here too] I remember hearing about Promise TV several years ago at Open Tech 2005, so it’s nice to see that there’s a real product now available to buy.
In essence they’ve built a Freeview recorder that records every programme on every Freeview channel, and keeps it for a seven day period before replacing them. In other words, every programme aired has been recorded whether you remember to record it or not.
I suppose in an age of iPlayer/4OD/ITVplayer, having your own personal recording becomes less necessary. Just stream the programme you missed! But then you can’t save something on iPlayer for later beyond the 7 day window. Nor can you put a stream on your non-connected portable media device without significant DRM issues. And if it’s a film or sporting event, rights reasons may prevent the programme being included in the channel’s streaming offering (the website doesn’t seem to explicitly say you can move media off the device, but I’d hope you can).
So in that regard, this seems like a fascinating idea.
And they’ve included radio which is very nice!
I’m not sure how many TB of disk space they have on the machines. The specifications don’t make it clear. But assuming that it’s recording in a native MPEG 2 format, that’s likely to be somewhere around 2GB per hour. That’s a third of a TB per channel for a full week. I think we can assume that there are a handful of 1 or 2 TB hard drives built into each unit.
The only disappointment is the price – £1200 for the “Lite” 3 day version. That puts it in the “enthusiast” marketplace rather than consumer one. Certainly it’s beyond my price point. But I guess that at least half that cost is due to the hard drive requirements.
I can see this being a very sensible purchase for a lot of corporate marketing and PR departments. There are some quite pricey companies who offer a service based around them archiving output from the major TV channels. They charge clients to access clips of shows that may be of interest to them. For a one-off payment, a company that regularly uses such services could buy a Promise TV device itself and as long as most of the clips they want are from within the seven day window, they could clip them themselves. The Promise Pro seems to offer this facility.

Recent Films

I’ve spent a while away from the cinema recently, but the “award season” means that I have to face my hatred of multiplexes and get out to see a few films. Although with the exception of one film, I saw these films in somewhat nicer confines of Curzon and BFI cinemas.
I really liked The Artist. I know that it’s got so much praise that it feels as though people have to rebel against it. Has it got the most sophisticated story ever? No. But it’s a fun film that really works wonderfully well.
I enjoyed the OSS 117 films that Michel Hazanavicius made previously, which were pitch-perfect pastiches based around sixties spy films. In The Artist, he’s clearly studied many of the classic silent films of the era, because he has employed so many of those films’ stylistic devices. Thoroughly worth seeing.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is a terrific film that I think it’s right that you know as little as possible about. What you need to know is that Elizabeth Olsen’s character is first seen leaving some kind of farm community in the Catskills. Later she seeks board and lodgings from here sister who lives with her English husband. Slowly, in flashback, we learn what she had been doing on the farm where we first found her. And not everything was wonderful…
I found Olsen fantastic, although I hope she doesn’t get typecast in horror films. Don’t become a new Sarah Michelle Gellar. This was a directorial debut from Sean Durkin, and I assume that he must have something of a photographic background, because this film really has a photo-quality in many of the frames, although that must be shared with cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes. I thought this was an excellent – if sometimes very disturbing film, and I’ve been busily recommending it to people.
Incidentally, while I actually saw this at The Renoir in London, it’s worth dropping into the Curzon Soho cinema where they’ve really done a terrific job of decorating the cinema. Lots of photography from the film decorates the walls.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (aka “4”) came out ages ago, but I thought that it was worth trying it in IMAX. It’s pricey, but it’s worth going to see it nonetheless. That was partly because there was a wonderful sequence from the forthcoming The Dark Knight Rises shown before the main feature. Set in the air, during a daring breakout of Bane from a transporter plane, it’s a fantastic sequence that gloriously makes use of the IMAX format.
As for Mission Impossible itself? Well it was perfectly serviceable. I wouldn’t say much more than that, as the plot doesn’t stay with you to any extent, but some of the main sequences do. So we start with an escape from a Russian prison followed by a Kremlin break-in. But the big sequence, which is shot in IMAX, is Tom Cruise on the outside of the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world. If you suffer from vertigo, you might feel it with this film.
It’s always well worth seeing a David Cronenberg film, and A Dangerous Method is his latest, with Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, and Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein, the woman who came into their lives. We spend most of our time with Jung over a number of years starting with his Austrian clinic. Spielrein is first Jung’s patient, before she studies to become a doctor, and later becomes Jung’s lover.
Although the film’s stage origins are always clear, I was utterly entranced by the film, and really lapped it all up. I really thought the lead actors were all excellent, and Vincent Cassell’s cameo as Otto Gross, is spellbinding.
Incidentally, Radio 4’s Saturday Play for the last couple of weeks has been a pair of plays detailing a couple of Freud’s actual cases. Neither are related to the events of this film, but I enjoyed them both.
Of all the films I’ve seen recently, The Woman in the Fifth is certainly the most disappointing, but that’s not to say that I didn’t find it interesting. Ethan Hawke’s writer, Tom Ricks, has been away, and we find him, an American in Paris, trying to see his child who’s in the care of his estranged wife. He gets robbed on a bus, and winds up in a grotty hotel where he has to take a curious, and largely unexplained job for a dubious character who runs the hotel and cafe underneath it. Lots of things are left unexplained in this film though.
Ricks ends up in a very odd literary soirée – one where you have to pay twenty Euros to enter – and he runs into Kirstin Scott Thomas’ Margit, a woman of almost indeterminate origin (not true, as she explains it). They fall in love. But Ricks is also beginning to fall Ania (Joanna Kulig), the Polish cafe bartender, and perhaps partner of the Turkish cafe/hotel’s proprietor.
Then things take a turn for the, well strange. Is everything quite as it seems? Apparently not. Is Ricks a well man? Probably not.
The film attempts lots of things, and perhaps isn’t always altogether successful. However, I still found it intriguing and worthwhile. Seemingly director Pawel Pawlikowski picked and chose which parts of Douglas Kennedy’s source novel he used in it. I’m not certain I want to read the book to find out which sections he used (and which he discarded), however.
The other films I’ve been spending time with are kids films of varying quality courtesy of Sky Anytime+, my laptop and an HDMI cable while I babysat my niece and nephew. I can tell you that Megamind wasn’t too bad, and most notably had quite a rock music soundtrack used reasonably well. Furry Vengeance was a bit “meh”. The kids liked the animals doing their stuff, although there really wasn’t enough of them. It feels as though Brendan Fraser really has doesn’t too much decent stuff recently. I think back to him in The Quiet American, and it feels as though he’s just dropped into lazy roles (I was also thinking recently that Kate Beckinsdale hasn’t done anything decent for years and years. I know she can act, but she’s just slumped into sub-Milla Jovovich “kick-ass” roles. Do something that stretches you please!) And Rango was fairly decent, with an entertaining voice cast. It could probably have done with losing 15 minutes, but overall enchanted the kids I was watching with (illness prevented us getting out to see The Muppets sadly).

More Mirror Box Photos

Mirror Box-3
Somewhat inspired by the awesome Infinity Mirrored Room created by Yayoi Kusama especially for her wonderful retrospective exhibition that’s just opened at Tate Modern, I went out and bought a cheap “sound sensor” light at Maplin.
And I used this to have another session using my mirror box.
A few more photos are below.

I’d like to have a play with some lasers next time around, and also smoke. I did try some smoke in a can, but it doesn’t seem to do a great deal. Anyway, something else to try another day.

When Awards Ignore Social Media

As I type, BBC1’s coverage of the BAFTA awards has just started on BBC1. We have Stephen Fry hosting again this year. The show started at 9pm.
But here’s the thing.
I already know many of the winners. Or at least, it’s not hard for me to find out. If I wander over to my Twitter stream
Sometime around 8.10pm the BBC Breaking News Twitter alerted me to one of the first big winners. If I tell you that the BBC Breaking News account is one of the accounts I still have forwarded as texts to my phone, you begin to understand my annoyance. It becomes almost impossible to avoid.
Indeed, it reminds me of that classic episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads where Bob and Terry try to avoid learning a football score ahead of the highlights airing on television.
Exactly when it starts in reality, I’m not sure. E! TV’s red carpet coverage aired pre-6pm, and the betting sites closed around the same time.
I know what happens is that the production company carefully edit out all the early craft awards so we can learn those winners later, under the end the credits. And obviously any naughty language can be spliced out too.
But that’s not good enough.
In the 21st century, either run the awards live, or don’t bother.
Start the awards at 8pm and give out the craft awards. Have a break, and then return at 9pm live for the main show, on a thirty second delay if need be, although putting the awards out post-watershed, and giving a stern warning about language to all there should suffice. Nobody cares if you run a bit late. Awards shows always do.
I note that Grammys, Emmys, Brits and Oscars all go out live.
In the scheme of things, I don’t even care that much. But this feels like such a nannyish way of doing things.

Curious Pricing

We all know that if we buy bigger packs of products, we tend to save money. But in the strange world of confectionary, that’s not always the case.
I was in Waitrose earlier, and it being February, there are clearly lots of Cadbury Creme eggs about.
But the pricing was slightly odd.
£1.55 for 3
I could buy a box of three for £1.55 (about 52p each). But just below, loose Creme Eggs were priced at £1.20 for 3 (40p each).
£1.20 for 3
So anyone who wants three eggs should buy loose ones.
But wait! For just 32p more, I could buy a box of six Creme Eggs.
£1.52 for 6
That’s just over 25p each. And for some reason a box of six is actually cheaper than a box of three. Probably not going to help the diet.
Maybe I six doesn’t cut it. I should get a larger pack and try to save even more! Handily, there’s yet another special offer.
£5 for 12
I can get 12 Creme Eggs for £5. But that’s just under 43p each – and much more expensive than buying in sixes. Indeed, it’s cheaper to buy them loose in threes rather than in a large box.
I suppose the thing to note here is that if you’re buying Creme Eggs in Waitrose, get them in sixes.
I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s usually always cheaper to buy loose fruit and veg rather than pre-packaged ones. And when products have a multiplicity of special offers, it’s not always obvious what the cheapest way is to buy soft drinks or beers. And Which recently launched a campaign to aid consumers in unit prices.
I was still surprised by quite how disparate this pricing was though.

RAJAR Q4 2011

RAJAR
The last quarter of 2011’s UK radio listening is out now, and the big news is that RAJAR has a new logo (see above) – Audio Measurement!
OK, there’s some other news too. So let’s run through the highlights and lowlights from my perspective.
First up is that radio listening overall is down a bit. Down 4.2% on last quarter, although it’s only down 1.4% on the previous year. The end of the medium? Not quite. Listening moves around a bit, and it was lower 18 months ago.
But commercial radio has taken the bigger hit. Listening to commercial radio is down 6.2% on the previous quarter while to the BBC it’s down 2.4%. That means that the BBC/Commercial Radio gap has widened in the BBC’s favour.
Among the national stations, there aren’t any massive stories. Radio 3, Radio 4 and TalkSport have all seen increases in reach. Although Radio 4 is hovering around it’s highest ever reach (which was in Q2 last year), and TalkSport is similarly not far off it’s biggest ever reach (Come to that, neither is Absolute Radio since it rebranded).
Chris Moyles saw a modest increase in listeners, and Chris Evans saw a modest fall. But the two heavyweights continue to slug it out for the title of biggest breakfast show in the country, with Evans winning comfortably despite having a shorter duration for his show.
And Radio 4’s Today Programme continues to perform very strongly jumping up in audience this quarter to 7.1m listeners, just 40,000 short of its all-time highest ever figures.
In London, Johnny Vaughan managed to achieve very nearly his highest ever audience in his final set of RAJAR results. Capital London saw 1.3m listeners during Q4. You have to go back to Q1 2005 to find higher figures between 0600 and 1000. Though it’s fair to point out that Vaughan left approximately two thirds of the way through the period, with Greg Burns filling in for the remainder.
That does place Capital’s breakfast show as the leading music breakfast programme in London. Jamie and Harriet, Neil Fox and Richie, Melvin and Charlie are all well behind. Even Chris Moyles is over 300,000 off Vaughan and Lisa Snowdon’s final figures.
And that breakfast result means that Capital is number one in London in both reach and hours, leaving Heart as number two in reach, and Magic as number two in hours. You have to go back to Q2 2005 for the last time Capital was number one in London on both measures. The station’s fortunes have really swung upwards in recent years as it has become more focused.
In one of those freak results, Heart lost nearly a quarter of its hours this period. I suspect that the only way is up for them next time around. It could be worse, and for Smooth London it was, with the station dropping 40% of its hours in the capital. Kiss on the other hand, saw its hours jump 27.9%. These all go to show that it’s the long term trends that are more indicative of stations’ performance in RAJAR rather than individual quarterly results.
Elsewhere, Radio 4 Extra’s rebrand continued to reap dividends, and that station increased leaving it just 50,000 listeners short of its record audience from Q2 last year. 6 Music also bounced back in a big way, leaving it with easily its all time highest audience of 1.4m.
Completing a generally very successful RAJAR for the BBC’s digital services, Radio 1Xtra also achieved a record audience, passing 1m listeners for the first time as it put on over 100,000 listeners. Tim Westwood will be pleased!
The more disappointing results came from the Asian Network that saw a fall, and Five Live Sports Xtra, who’s audience can vary dependending on sporting events, fell back quite a lot. No cricket to be found in Q4.
Of the commercial national and quasi-national digital services, Smash Hits did best, regaining an audience of just over a million. Absolute 80s and Planet Rock both fell back a bit, while Jazz FM was pretty flat.
Of the big groups, there weren’t any really notable changes, with perhaps the exception of Xfm that saw a disappointing fall of 15% in reach on the quarter.
Among the major commercial groups, TIML (owners of Absolute Radio’s brands), GMG and Orion (owners of the Midlands stations that are soon to rebrand to Free Radio) all saw increases in share on the year, although TIML did see a fall on the quarter. Global is modestly up on the year, but Bauer has seen a fall on the quarter and the year in its share.
The amount of listening on a digital platform showed a nearly a full percentage point increase – quite substantial in the scheme of things. Now 29.1% of all radio listening is on a digital platform. While 1% might seem quite marginal, that comes in a quarter before the annual jump usually seen post-Christmas following healthy DAB set sales. We’ll have to wait to find out how many digital sets were sold over Christmas. Reach is also very healthy, with 49.4% of people listening to a digital platform across a week.


The digital share does of course vary – sometimes quite substantially by station. For example, across the Absolute Radio Network of services, it’s now 71.1% digital. Whereas on Radio 1 it’s only 20.4%.
Services you might think as AM stalwarts are now surprisingly digital. Five Live is now 39.0% digital (it was entertaining hearing Simon Mayo telling off Mark Kermode on last week’s movie show, for mentioning the station’s AM frequencies when they were talking about a transmitter problem in the northwest). And TalkSport is now 30.8% digital. It’s interesting to note that in London, two stations serving quite similar audiences have very different levels of digital penetration. Capital London is now 22.6% digital, whereas Kiss 100 is 32.7% digital.





One thing I bang on about a lot is the problem radio as industry faces in the younger demographics. Since RAJAR really only healthily measures from age 15, I’ve used 15-24s in this instance.
The chart below shows that from around 2004 onwards, radio has been losing listening hours amongst the youngest element of its audience.

The reach picture looks a bit better:

But it doesn’t take account of the growing population, so using percentages is better:

And the picture isn’t that much brighter among 25-34s either:

I’m not sure what the answer is. But I still believe that as an industry we need to work harder to address it.
And finally, I’ve of course updated by big interactive Hans Rosling inspired national services RAJAR tool.

As ever, you want to play with the big version for full-screen viewability.
And be sure to read the notes I put together when I first made this. They still apply, and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of it.
For other RAJAR analysis, I would visit the following sites:
Matt Deegan always has some worthwhile thoughts.
Paul Easton regularly writes about the new figures.
And Nik Goodman usually has a few things to say.
Read about Absolute Radio’s performance right here.
You can see all the data at the RAJAR website.
I suspect that James Cridland might write a piece (either on his blog or at Mediatel (some areas subscribers only)), but he’ll certainly be updating all the station data at Media UK.
Radio Today has loads of coverage.
And finally, the Media Guardian guys will have been trying to get at the stories beyond the press releases.
Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending December 2011, adults 15+.
Disclaimer: These are my own views, although they’re based on work I’ve done for Absolute Radio, and through whom I get access to the data. I also sit on the RAJAR Technical Management Group representing commercial radio. Just so you know.

January Books

Here’s a vaguely accurate summary of the books I’ve read this month. An attempt, to some extent, to get me to read more. I can’t tell you how many books I have “backed up”…

A Card From Angela Carter is an unusual thing. For starters, it’s due to be Radio 4’s Book of the Week next week, and because this is a slim volume, I’d anticipate that the book will need barely any abridgement to be read in its entirety across five fifteen minute episodes.
This book began life as a Radio 3 essay, and is based around a series of postcards that Angela Carter sent her friend Susannah Clapp. Clapp has used these brief cards as a jumping off point for a more detailed remembrance of Carter and the different facets of her life and her character.
I’ve always found that admired Angela Carter from afar. Perhaps I wasn’t sure that a man was allowed to read books published by Virago, the publisher created for literature written solely by women? Nonetheless, it was A Company of Wolves that introduced her to me. And of course I came from the film – still one of my favourites.
To be honest, I’ve still not read much of her work, although that means I’ve got it to look forward to. But this is lovely primer on a fascinating woman.
You can also read a fairly chunky extract of the book at The Observer.

Empire State, on the other hand, is something very different. Essentially a steampunk novel, but with a wonderful noir feel, it’s set in two parallel versions of New York. One is an adjunct of sorts to the “real” New York.
But this is a world in which superheroes also exist.
Debut novelist Adam Christopher has a lot to juggle in this book, and to start with, it the reader a while to become comfortable. But they’re interesting characters, and as is the way with these things, nobody is necessarily who you think they are.

Before I Go To Sleep is the book you’re going to see most people reading on the tube over the coming months. Well I say that, but with the growth in Kindles, you won’t necessarily notice that they’re reading it.
But the book has already been number one for four weeks, and it’s included in just about all the popular book clubs currently running – Richard & Judy’s, the TV Book Club and so on. [An aside: publishers, please ensure that those book club stickers can be peeled off easily. The TV Book Club sticker required nail varnish remover to properly remove on my copy.] I suppose what this reminds me in part of is Room, but also the film Memento.
The premise is simple: Christine, the novel’s narrator, has a rare form of amnesia which means that every morning when she wakes up, she can remember nothing from the last twenty or so years. Memories stay with her throughout the day, but once she enters a deep sleep, she forgets it all and she’s back to where she started the previous morning.
That presents some challenges for a novel to say the least. But Christine, who has to be told daily by husband who she actually is, is also keeping a journal. Using this, she’s able to begin to put some of her life back together.
And this is a thriller, so perhaps not everything is what it seems…
I read this cracking book over a couple of days, and enjoyed it tremendously. In some respects, S J Taylor faced an impossible job writing himself out of the difficulty he’d placed his characters. And yet he manages it very neatly.
Thoroughly recommended.

I went along to Foyles for the UK launch of The Boy In The Suitcase a couple of weeks ago, and this is another example of Scandinavian crime fiction. In this case we’re in Denmark, home of The Killing and Borgen of course.
Nina is a nurse with the Red Cross, and when an old colleague of hers gives her a key and asks her to collect something from a locker at the station, she finds a small child – still alive. At this point, the sensible thing might have been to immediately phone the police. But Nina’s knowledge of what life is like for orphan immigrant children, and perhaps a lack of sense, mean that this is not what she does.
And so begins a tale of abducted children and murder, with links to a former Soviet state.
This book, as good crime fiction is able to do, shines a torch on our attitudes that are sometimes at odds with themselves. In particular there’s a general lack of care for immigrants that’s highlighted.
The Boy In The Suitcase is co-written by two Danish authors who’ve published quite successfully separately – Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnette Friis. But this is the first time they’ve turned their hand to crime (although there’ve since been two further books which we can look forward to in due course). Interestingly, and unusually, Kaaberbøl translated the English language version herself! Even though the Scandinavian authors I’ve come across through the Nordic Noir Book Club all speak English remarkably well, this is the first time I’ve heard of anyone taking on translation duties themselves.

The Woman in Black is one of those books that has been around so long now, it’s firmly on the syllabus for GCSEs (I had to do Chaucer and Shakespeare as my set texts). And for nearly as long, it’s been a fixture in the West End. Now it is to be a film, so with a newspaper offer promoting the title, I thought that I should finally get around to it.
I’ve not read an enormous amount of Hill’s work, which varies between crime and ghost stories. But I did read The Man in the Picture a few years ago which I enjoyed.
This is as classic a ghost story as is possible to be. And really I wouldn’t want to spoil it too much by revealing much about the plot. Except to say that it’s set in a remote village and even more remote house somewhere on the coast, and involves a young lawyer who has to deal with the estate of recently deceased women who lives in that house.
How scary or horrific you find the tale depends on how much you invest in it. To an extent, I find ghost stories harder to convey in novel form. Perhaps they really need to be read out loud? How good the film will turn out to be, we’ll just have to wait and see. But a very fine ghost story.

West End Front is absolutely fantastic!
Matthew Sweet, regular presenter on Radio 3’s Nightwaves amongst his many other duties, has done an incredible job in collating these memories and stories of some of London’s “Grand” hotels.
The book examines what it was like in those hotels as war in Europe broke out. They became a curious bubbling cauldron of soldiers, spies, prostitutes, con-men, royalty and politicians. That’s probably a recipe for some fantastic stories, and so it is that Sweet gives us them.
These hotels were there own ecosystems and during the war, various people just moved into them. Even rationing didn’t mean that guests had to wont for much. The Savoy had its own farm!
But there were strikes, plots, illegal abortions and internments.
Sometimes the stories are amusing. Other times they’re utterly harrowing.
Sweet has gone around over a number of years collecting these stories from those still alive who can relate their first-hand memories, and this book is to be cherished for that reason alone.
Somehow today’s hotels seem terribly dull in comparison. I can’t recommend this book enough!

We’ve had a lot of Sherlock Holmes recently, and to an extent, An Uncertain Place is some more. It’s the latest in Fred Vargas Commissaire Adamsberg series, who is certainly a detective who takes at least some inspiration from the great detective.
The action begins in London at a conference Adamsberg is attending. He gets sidetracked by a curious find outside Highgate cemetary – a collection of feet no less. But the story moves back to France pretty swiftly as a dead man is found in the most grissly of circumstances.
Trying to discover a motive is never straightforward in a Vargas story, where history always plays a key part, and the action doesn’t stay in one place for any period of time.
Any novel that starts to examine vampires is going to raise some eyebrows, but as with the previous title dealing with supposed werewolves, things might have a more down to earth answer even if locals of one sort or another believe differently.
Finally, there’s the previously reviewed From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg.