Review: Jo Walton’s alternative British fascist history trilogy

FARTHING. HA’PENNY. HALF A CROWN. By Jo Walton. Corsair. 316pp. $19.99 each.
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The Small Change trilogy, from Welsh Canadian author and Hugo award winner Jo Walton, is now released for the first time in Australia. Walton’s alternate history predicates a Britain which made peace with Germany in 1941 after the Rudolf Hess mission.

Walton’s books, published between 2006 and 2008, predate C.J. Samson’s darker and more complex 2012 novel Dominion, which has a similar Nazi-dominated Britain. Walton says, “I wrote these books during a dark time politically, when the US and the UK were invading Iraq without a Security Council resolution on a trumped up casus belli.”

Each of the three novels features the same main character, Inspector Peter Carmichael, whose voice alternates with a different first-person female narrator in each book. Farthing, set in 1949, is deliberately modelled on the country house murder mysteries of Agatha Christie and Michael Innes. Sir James Thirkie, about to replace Anthony Eden as Prime Minister, is murdered, with a yellow star of David pinned to his chest, during a Farthing country house weekend.

Lucy Farthing is married to a Jewish banker who immediately becomes the scapegoat for the murder. Carmichael knows the identity of the real murderer, but has to manoeuvre the realpolitik as Farthing-Set member Mark Normanby becomes Prime Minister.

Ha’penny, set two weeks later, is more a political thriller than a murder mystery. Walton says its alternate title was The Hamlet Bomb as a Mitford sister clone, actress Viola Lark, becomes mixed up in a plot to kill both Normanby and Adolf Hitler. Walton says, “The idea of a theatrical Mitford sister and a plot to blow up Hitler was irresistible”.

A major problem with Walton’s female main characters is their lack of depth, and this is even more evident in Half a Crown, set in 1960. The female voice is teenager Elvira, Carmichael’s niece ,who is more interested in fashion and society than the deportation of Jews, the “British Power” streetfighters, and Nazi politics.

Carmichael is now running the Watch, the equivalent of the Gestapo in Britain, despite his secret liberal leanings. A global meeting is scheduled in London, where Germany and Japan will divide the world. A plot to overthrow the “soft” government of Normanby, and place the exiled Duke of Windsor on the throne over Queen Elizabeth, sees Elvira as the key to unlocking the conspiracy and a deus ex regina conclusion.

Half a Crown is the weakest of the three novels, as the British passivity for 11 years in the face of increasing fascist actions is never explained and thus seems unlikely to be immediately energised by the Queen’s intervention. Walton’s alternate title for the trilogy, Still Life with Fascists, perhaps best reflects Walton’s populace frozen in time from 1949 to 1960.

The Small Change trilogy takes its place as a readable and entertaining contribution to the alternate history World War II genre, but its lack of contextual depth and its weak female characterisation means that is never reaches the heights of Len Deighton’s SS-GB, Samson’s Dominion and Iain Macleod’s The Summer Isles.

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Mourners find respite from their despair in poignant St Paul’s Cathedral service

‘We gather to offer the best that we can be for each other in grief.’ Photo: Justin McManus The noise of the world was deafened and was replaced by a choir that sang words of comfort. Photo: Justin McManus
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‘Australia mourns the loss of her children.’ Photo: Justin McManus

There was a peace that was found in St Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday. For some, it was the first time they had found it since their ordinary lives were upended.

“This was uplifting,” Dorina Rizk said. “We’ve been very angry in the past week. We want them back home.”

Ms Rizk lost her brother-in-law Albert Rizk and his wife Maree on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The Sunbury couple were returning from a European holiday.

She found solace in an hour inside the church’s walls in the middle of Melbourne, flanked by 1800 mourners.

The noise of the world had deafened and was replaced by a choir that sang words of comfort, and of the dead that now rested.

In his sermon, Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier said there had been little comfort and respect for the victims of MH17, whose innocent lives had collided with a conflict on the other side of the world.

“We look for hope in the midst of so much despair,” Dr Freier said.

“Even in death, a proper and dignified response has struggled to find a place in the midst of a violent separatist war.”

He called for support, privacy and respect for the family and friends of the victims.

“We gather to offer the best that we can be for each other in grief. We gather to show respect for the dead, to do our best to honour them,” he said.

The deaths of 298 people aboard flight MH17 brought together leaders from all religions. Those attending the multi-faith service were greeted by 37 daffodils laid on the steps of the church – one for every Australian victim of the downed aircraft.

“Australia mourns the loss of her children, 37 daffodils to represent your beautiful spirits,” an accompanying card read. “May you find sunshine in heaven.”

Inside, Dr Freier’s message was shared among Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish leaders and with the hundreds of mourners. Hundreds more watched a live feed on a large screen in Federation Square.

Eighteen Victorians died in the plane disaster, the largest number in the country. After the one-hour service, Premier Denis Napthine said he had spoken with some of the families and shared in their grief and anger. He joined calls for the bodies of all Australian victims to be brought home at once, but warned some families would face the “added tragedy” of not having bodies to bring back.

People wrote messages of comfort in books at the back of the church while, to the side, prayer candles flickered.

From a pew at the back of cathedral, a woman named Pam, from Hampton, said though she did not know anyone on MH17, she came to the service to find solace and pay her respects.

“I think it might bring me peace,” she said.

“It has been feeling wrong to lead an ordinary life.”

As mourners filed out, the noise of the outside – of trams, of chatter, of cars, of bustle – fractured the silence.

But still there was peace.

“The service was comforting,” Ms Rizk said.

She turned back to her family and was enfolded in their embrace.

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McKeons set up shot at destiny at Commonwealth Games

David and Emma McKeon look set to fulfil what bloodlines would indicate to be a pre-destined path when they impressively won their heats at the Commonwealth Games pool to qualify fastest for Thursday night’s finals.
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The McKeon siblings have a famous swimming heritage with parents Ron and Susie (formerly Woodhouse) having both swam for Australia as has uncle Rob Woodhouse, all of whom were watching from the stands on Thursday. Both have come into their own during the past year, charging up the world rankings and showed that form when David won his 400 metre freestyle heat in three minutes 45.23, more than one second ahead of next fastest qualifier veteran Canadian Ryan Cochrane (3:46.62).

David McKeon, who had a relatively disappointing world championships last year, which were his first major meet, showed in not being unsettled by a reasonable fast previous heat, which included teammate Mack Horton, who made the final in 3:47.33.

“I only really saw what Mack went when because I looked at the top five times and I know that I can go faster in the mornings. I proved that at trials so I had that in the back of my mind,” David McKeon said.

“I took it out and just went strong in the back end. It was a good way to blow out the cobwebs I guess.

“I’m pretty happy with that. I raced it well and I didn’t take too much out of me . I slowed down a far bit in the last 50.

“I sometimes think the heats are the hardest things, just to blow the cobwebs out after not racing for a while and travelling.”

Jordan Harrison, who like Horton was taken by surprise by the fast times on the first morning, qualified eighth fastest for the final.

Emma set a new Commonwealth Games record when she won her heat in 1:56.57 with England’s Siobhan O’Connor second fastest in 1:56.58. Australian teammate and London Olympic bronze medallist Bronte Barratt scrapped into the final in eighth in 1:58.71.

“I was surprised by the speed of the morning but I’m happy with my swim and pretty excited for tonight,” Emma McKeon said.

Christian Sprenger however was not as happy with his 200 breastroke heat. The 100 breaststroke world champion had somewhat reluctantly included the four-lap event into his schedule for the Games after impressive performances at the national titles in April and only just made the final in the final position in 2:11.96.

“I thought it would have been a bit easier but it wasn’t,” said a clearly frustrated Sprenger.

“At various points in the race I wanted to hold back but then it was too late and I just wasn’t swimming how I should swim my own race and that’s the problem,” Sprenger said.

“The second I move away from what I know best, things start to occur and if you look around at people and see what they’re doing you could lose the race and I think that’s what I got caught up doing.”

“Depending on the outcome tonight this may or may not be my last one. I’ll try and come back and give it another go but I just don’t think it’s quite what I want to do. I think 100 metres is where I want to be, on top of the world … but I’m going to give it everything and I want to go out swinging.”

In other races, the Australian 4×100 women’s freestyle relay team smashed the Commonwealth Games record in posting a time of 3:34.57, more than six seconds ahead of second fastest England, and that was without first choice swimmers Cate and Bronte Campbell.

Keryn McMaster was the fifth fastest qualifier and Jessica Pengelly, sixth, in the 400 individual medley behind local hope Hannah Miley, who was another who set a new Games record.

Josh Beaver, Mitch Larkin and Ben Treffers all qualified for the semi-finals of the 100 backstroke while Olympic and world championships silver medallist Alicia Coutts was the fastest qualifier in the 100 butterfly while Emma McKeon and Ellen Gandy, who missed a berth in the 400 individual medley final, also made it through to the final.

Leiston Pickett, Sally Hunter and Lorna Tonks qualified for the 50 breaststroke semi-finals while Jayden Hadler, Christopher Wright and Kenneth To also progressed to the 50 butterfly semi-finals.

Rowan Crothers, Matt Cowdrey and Brenden Hall qualified in the top three positions for the para-swimming 100 freestyle final (S9).

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Queen selfie goes viral after right royal photobomb on Hockeyroos

Royal blush: The Queen photobombs the Hockeyroos selfie. Photo: TwitterFull coverage: Commonwealth GamesMedal tallyDay-by-day schedule
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Australian hockey player Jayde Taylor’s selfie has quickly become a worldwide social media phenomenon after Queen Elizabeth inadvertently photobombed the picture.

Taylor and teammate Brooke Peris took the picture before their opening match of the Commonwealth Games against Malaysia, which the Hockeyroos won 4-0, at the Glasgow National Hockey Centre.

Prior to the match, the Queen was introduced to the players.

Taylor wrote on her Twitter post: “Ahhh The Queen photo-bombed our selfie!! #royalty #sheevensmiled #amazing”

She later tweeted a message to @TheEllenShow “I think our selfie tops yours! #queenselfie #queenphotobomb #hockeyroos #callme”

It was a light-hearted moment before a match played with heavy hearts. Players wore black armbands in the wake of last week’s Malaysia Airlines disaster.

Australia proved far too classy for the Asian minnows and the margin could’ve been greater were it not for defiant goalkeeper Farah Ayuni Yahya.

Jodie Kenny opened the scoring after seven minutes off a penalty corner, the only set piece of the game to yield a Hockeyroos goal.

Kellie White doubled the lead in the 20th minute before Georgina Parker found the back of the net in the 30th and 49th minutes to complete the emphatic triumph.

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Who buys duty free on board a plane? You do

Korean Air’s A380 features a duty free shop on board.Shopping can apparently solve all manner of problems… including boredom on long flights.
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I’ve just seen figures showing Qantas international passengers are spending millions of dollars a year on inflight shopping purchases.

The airline is recording nearly 350,000 duty free shopping transactions a year, with purchases ranging from sunglasses to tech gadgets.

That’s just one airline and doesn’t take into account purchases made through duty free outlets in airports; yikes, how much are people spending??

I’m not really into shopping – I think I was born without retail therapy receptors – but I know I’m in the minority.

Duty free shopping is a big part of the holiday experience for many travellers, along with the shopping they do at their destination.

Duty free prices do not necessarily represent big savings over discount stores and online sales these days, but there are still bargains to be had if you know what you’re looking for.

I guess it is also hard to beat the convenience and novelty factor of having something delivered to you in your seat (although that takes away one of the few options for passing time in an airport).

You can even go online and pre-order what you want these days; Qantas says thousands of passengers per month take up this option, with pre-ordering available at least three days prior to departure.

The most popular item sold by Qantas is polarised wireframe sunglasses, followed by global power adaptors and vodka.

Making up the top ten are various other forms of alcohol, a travel photo lens set, lip balm and macadamia chocolates.

(Okay, so the macadamia chocolates and vodka I can understand.)

On the subject of alcohol, it seems that when we’re not shopping during flights, we’re very committed to drinking.

A company specialising in onboard sales technology for airlines, GuestLogix, analysed more than eight million transactions across five North American airlines and found passengers spend more money on alcohol than any other inflight purchase.

The figures relate to onboard consumption rather than duty-free shopping, on airlines where passengers purchase their own food and drinks.

Spirits accounted for just over a third of all sales, followed by wine at 13 per cent and beer at 10 per cent.

This equated to more than $40 million in alcohol sales in just four months – that’s a lot of drinks, my friends.

Non-alcoholic drinks were just one per cent of sales, with fresh food items making up most of the remaining purchases.

Very few people shelled out for comfort items such as pillows and blankets, but headsets and inflight entertainment together accounted for four per cent of total sales.

GuestLogix found some passengers were spending more than $100 per flight on beverages alone, with flights to holiday destinations such as Las Vegas, Mexico and Hawaii not surprisingly recording the highest average sales.

The data also showed that Sundays were consistently the highest-revenue days for inflight sales across all categories.

There’s a lot of talk about avoiding alcohol during flights – it can certainly affect you more at altitude and doesn’t help with hydration levels, which are a big part of avoiding jet lag – but it does provide a distraction and help pass the time.

British Airways recently used hi-tech blankets to track passengers’ emotions during various stages of flight and found eating and drinking made passengers a lot happier.

The fibre-optic blankets were linked to headsets that measured emotions with neuro-sensor technology, turning the blankets red when passengers were stressed or anxious and blue when they were calm and relaxed.

‘Here’s what we discovered: Initially, there are fluctuations as the passengers settle in, but there is a noticeable lift in a passenger’s mood whilst enjoying food and drink,” British Airways said.

While the blankets have proved a clever marketing tool for British Airways, they do serve a purpose: They are being used to help the airline analyse aspects of its onboard service, such as the timing of meals and entertainment options.

The colour-changing blankets can also help flight attendants identify passengers who are feeling anxious or stressed about the journey.

Maybe the standard response should be to take them a stiff drink and an inflight shopping catalogue.

Do you ever purchase duty free on board flights? What other items have your purchased on board? Post your comments below.

NOTE: This will be my last “Travel Insider” column. After nearly 20 years as a travel writer I have decided to pursue a new and very different career as a paramedic. Thank you to my loyal readers for all your feedback and comments over the years. Safe travels!


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