There is something slightly satisfying about reading a history of the whole world. You find yourself thinking, "While I'm waiting for the kettle to boil, I can do the 11th century." A five stop train journey can get you through the decline of the Roman Empire and a bit of the Crusades (with a bit of concentration).
Glasgow's dustcart workers went on strike in June 1975. As they fought for parity of pay with other HGV drivers 60,000 tons of rubbish built up. The new film Ratcatcher is set in the slum tenements of Glasgow during the strike. James, a young boy, ekes out a miserable existence. His home is an overcrowded slum. His family has no money. He accidentally drowns his friend and has to watch his family mourn.
All The King's Men is a fictionalised retelling of the Sandringham Brigade, which went missing at the Battle of Gallipoli in the First World War. The battalion was raised from among the servants and day labourers of the Sandringham estate of Queen Alexandra (played by Maggie Smith). The green soldiers are swept away with the enthusiasm for war under the command of the queen's upright yet naive estate manager (David Jason). Her 14 year old footboy lies about his age to enlist, while the one objector is set upon by a patriotic mob.
THE NOVELS of J M Coetzee, who won the prestigious Booker Prize for the second time last week, are well worth reading. Coetzee, a white South African, was an opponent of apartheid. Disgrace, his latest work, tells the story of lecturer David Lurie, who has an affair with one of his students. Accused of harassment, he leaves the university and goes to live with his lesbian daughter.
THE MOST eagerly anticipated movie of the year has arrived - The Blair Witch Project. It was filmed for just $35,000. It has made $137 million at the US box office, making it the most profitable movie of all time. The film's plot is simple. Three young film makers disappear while shooting a documentary about witches in the forests of Maryland. One year later their film is found.
Scottish director Bill Forsyth's new film Gregory's Two Girls is on general release. By choosing to make a belated sequel to his 1981 film, Forsyth has taken a calculated risk. The original Gregory's Girl was a gem of a film. It was a story about working class teenagers set in the new town of Cumbernauld on the outskirts of Glasgow. It made Forsyth's name as an accomplished film maker. He went on to make the whimsical Local Hero and the much underrated Comfort and Joy.
Poet Benjamin Zephaniah has written a new children's book called Face. The story is centred around the character of Martin, who is a white school student who has a facial disfigurement. I read this book with my children, aged six and ten, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Every page brought a new twist.