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Busy, busy! Son's wedding drawing near - retirement beckoning too. Some revamped Ciao and newly written other music reviews on my blog,

Reviews written

since 28/08/2015


Sand In My Shoes - Ralph McTell 26/04/2017

Love, genocide, social injustice, parenthood - moving, evocative

Sand In My Shoes - Ralph McTell +++++ Music reviews don’t earn the writer a single penny regardless of what rates are awarded. You may want to bear this in mind when rating. On the other hand, it’s taken quite a bit of time to write and edit this review! +++++ Note that the title of this album is definitely “Sand in YOUR shoes” and not “…MY shoes”! It caused me some confusion when I was searching the site for it! I love Ralph McTell’s music. Firstly, his lyrics are often powerful, striking, and evocative. Secondly, he marries his lyrics to great tunes that fit the words like a glove. Thirdly, he is a very adept guitar player. Fourthly, his manner on stage is relaxed, down to earth, and engaging. The album I like the jewel case packaging of this album, enabling me to keep it in good condition. It plays for just over 68 minutes, consists of 14 songs, and comes with a 16-page booklet containing complete lyrics and some photographs. The tracks The songs cover social issues, genocide, a thought-provoking song about Jesus Christ (though I don’t agree with all its sentiments), love, family breakdown, and watching one’s children grow up and leave home to forge their own lives. I’ll confine myself to commenting on some of them. <<< Care In The Community >>> To me, the jazzy, upbeat sound of this contrasts starkly with the haunting, disturbing lyrics. It’s a series of word sketches about vulnerable people neglected and deliberately ignored. One man handles a knife in his pocket as a voice in his head ...

Kidnap in Crete - Rick Stroud 24/04/2017

"The real heroes were the Cretans themselves..."

Kidnap in Crete - Rick Stroud May 1941. Over 15,000 German troops embark onto nearly 600 aircraft bound for a Mediterranean island a mere 160 miles by 30 miles in size. They are highly trained and well equipped. Most are confirmed Nazi party members devoted to Hitler. The intelligence secured and conveyed to them is optimistic. The massive airborne invasion – the largest ever mounted – would be a pushover. It will provide a supply base for the campaign in North Africa. In the event, however, the intelligence was grossly inaccurate. Not only were British forces garrisoned on the island; and although the best of the Cretan army had been deployed to the Albanian border, the Cretan civilians proved determined and brave. A boy scout shot at German paratroopers from the roof of a bank. Cretan women armed themselves with knives and despatched many injured paratroopers. The island was eventually restored and, in measure, subjected to German control. German losses had massively outweighed expectations, and although the FALLSHIRMJAGER would fight in other campaigns, they would do so as elite ground troops only. Spring 1944. A plan is hatched by some British Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents on Crete to kidnap a German general. It will be a risky operation, entailing evasion from an intense manhunt, the negotiation of some of the toughest mountain terrain in Europe with a prisoner in tow, and a rendezvous with a Royal Naval vessel at the closely guarded coast. And against the gains, there was the almost ...

Slaters Menswear (Shop) 20/04/2017

Suits me, Sir!

Slaters Menswear (Shop) Some research is into a strange phenomenon that must be affecting many people, myself included, is long overdue. Clothes become prone to shrinkage. It’s the selective nature of this shrinkage that demands research. Neither trouser leg nor shirt sleeve lengths ever seem to shrink. But trouser waists and shirt and jacket widths most certainly do. Clothes that fitted perfectly a year or two ago become too tight as a result. It’s all very odd! As a result I found myself in need of a new suit for my son’s wedding. Initially Mrs M and I were geared up for a trip to the Trafford Centre in Manchester. We braced ourselves for the experience but then – almost on the eve of our trip, in fact – I was told of a gents’ outfitters in Manchester city centre, Slaters, to be precise. Why Slaters? Apart from helping me to evade the stampedes of the Trafford Centre, this place sounded good in its own right. The Manchester branch was almost slap bang in the middle of the city centre, and easy to find and to combine with a visit to other shops, if need be. I was told that they have a good selection of men’s suits, “proper” service and advice, and even a free alteration service. A glance at their website confirmed this, and stated that the Manchester branch is the biggest in the country. This review is of an actual store but although I can’t comment first-hand, it is worth noting that the website offers the following facilities for items ordered on-line: ~~~~ free delivery on orders over £75 ...

Dermot Byrne & Floriane Blanke - Dermot Byrne 17/04/2017

Jazz, world, Celtic, button accordion and harp - quite a mix!

Dermot Byrne & Floriane Blanke - Dermot Byrne +++++++ Please note: perhaps understandably, Ciao not only exclude music reviews from diamond awards and premium fund, but also pay nothing at all for music reviews. You may want to bear this in mind if reading/rating. On the other hand, it would be satisfying for me at least to earn a few extra points from posting a review. My music blog now contains a number of posts, some of which are adapted from reviews posted here, but others are new, if you are interested. +++++++ I came across this album by chance, and decided to give it a punt. It was going for the silly price of £2.00 – nothing to lose, really! I love instrumental folk music, and this one looked promising. Who? Dermot Byrne comes from County Donegal in the Irish Republic and learned his craft on accordion – and many tunes – from local players. Floriane Blancke comes from Paris, and has a classical background as well as having studied jazz and world music. She plays harp and piano This promised to be rather different – but would it “work”? The album Th album comes in the increasingly common card packaging, but at least the cover folds out to display brief notes about the artists and the tunes. It consists of 12 tracks and plays for about 46 minutes. The tunes It’s never easy to review am instrumental album, but I’ll do my best! >>>> Monaghan jig/The Templehouse Reel <<<< Dermot’s melodeon (button accordion rather than “piano” accordion) takes the lead in this, and Floriane’s harp underpins it. I ...

Somewhere Down The Road - Ralph McTell 15/04/2017

However far you have to travel to get it - get it!

Somewhere Down The Road - Ralph McTell ++++++ Please note: Perhaps understandably, Ciao no longer pay anything at all for music reviews. Any that I post are therefore purely for my own enjoyment – and hopefully some readers’ benefit. This is a re-vamp of my second ever Ciao review. I didn’t really do justice to the artist, my all-time musical hero. Also I will probably expand it slightly to post in my blog. Any rates won’t benefit my pocket, but would notch up my Ciao points! ++++++ Ralph McTell – he’s the guy who wrote “Streets Of London”, isn’t he? Not many musical performers have been in the business for 50 years and not only reached the top of their game but remained there. Ralph is one of them. His good friend, the comedian Billy Connolly has described him as a “national treasure.” I have been a keen Ralph fan for most of my adult life (I’m in my late fifties now) and took up guitar playing after listening to some of his vinyl albums (anyone remember those nice-sized, tactile sleeves with print that was easy on the eye and illustrations big enough to really enjoy?!) If you only ever associate Ralph McTell with “Streets of London” please stop! He is a master songwriter (more of this to follow) as well as a brilliant guitar player (he was “given” his stage surname by fellow musician Wizz Jones as an allusion to Ralph’s blues/ragtime playing influence, the recordings of Blind Willie McTell). I especially love this relatively recent album of Ralph’s because, whilst I like all his CDs, this one for me ...

By Tank into Normandy - Stuart Hills 08/04/2017

"How can its actual awfulness be described..?"

By Tank into Normandy - Stuart Hills The Allied “D-Day” landings required a number of specialist military innovations. One of the most remarkable was the secret construction of pre-fabricated wharves and jetties that were installed soon after the landings to enable the vast supply chain to be established from sea to land, and was known as “Mulberry Harbour”. Amphibious landing craft with watertight ramps were produced to ferry men and tanks from ships to shallow water. Specialist tanks were pioneered and produced, including ones that would clear a path through mines by means of flailing chains mounted in front of the tank’s body. One of the most daring developments – that in the event proved of mixed value – was the adaptation of Sherman tanks with a temporary waterproof screen and propeller that could “swim” to shore, hopefully over a distance of up to several thousand yards, to provide almost immediate support on the beaches for the infantry. As it turned out, the vagaries of local tides Wreaked havoc on many of these, and those that landed successfully did so largely because, contrary to orders, they were taken closer to shore than was intended. At the age of 19, Stuart Hills was the commander of one of these “DD” (“Duplex drive”) tanks. This book describes his experiences in the Normandy landings and on subsequent operations, including the seizing of Nijmegen Bridge in preparation for the ambitious but ill-fated “Operation Market Garden”, of which the battle for Arnhem is best known. I found it a ...

Wild Blue - Stephen E. Ambrose 28/03/2017

Wild Blue, the "Dakota Queen" - not what you might think!

Wild Blue - Stephen E. Ambrose The American and British Air Forces had very different approaches to bombing in the Second World War. To minimise losses, the RAF concentrated on night-time bombing. This was clearly a trade-off for a higher level of inaccuracy. By contrast, to maximise accuracy, the Americans concentrated on daytime bombing. No prizes for guessing where I came across this book! It tells the story of one squadron (741 Squadron) over occupied Europe. More specifically, it revolves mainly around one pilot George McGovern, and his crew, who flew B24 “Liberator” aircraft in missions from bases in Italy. The author Stephen Ambrose has written a number of military history books, including “Pegasus Bridge”, that I have reviewed. He also wrote the book “Band Of Brothers”, on which the movie “Saving Private Ryan” was based. I find his style engaging and exciting, though being pedantic about English grammar I have to take a deep breath at times with his Americanisms (such as “gotten” instead of “got”). This is a fairly minor and tongue-in-cheek criticism, however! It’s written in an easy to read style. Ambrose has taken huge pains to research this book, and no less than three pages (with three columns per page) list veterans and/or their families whose accounts helped in the production of the book. The book My paperback edition contains 262 pages of text, not including notes and sources of quotations for each chapter, and index. There are 11 chapters of around 20 pages each, which makes ...

Ledward Kaapana And Bob Brozman In Concert (DVD) 25/03/2017

Slightly exotic and authentic,but very accessible music

Ledward Kaapana And Bob Brozman In Concert (DVD) **** Please note that some of the criteria for DVDs don't apply to this one! **** There’s just something about traditional Hawaiian music. I don’t mean the stuff deliberately churned out for tourists; rather the genuine music and tunes that native Hawaiians themselves play and enjoy. To me, it sounds exotic enough to be different from western music, but familiar enough to be accessible. It can be slow and sweet or vibrant. The playing of Ledward Kaapana and Bob Brozman here ,and on CD, broke new ground. I’ll explain why, with some historical background. PLEASE NOTE: If you want to skip the next few paragraphs up to “The Performance”, feel free! Making the guitar sound better? The way a guitar is normally tuned sounds very odd and discordant if you brush your finger or thumb across the individual strings. To the Hawaiians (and people of a number of other cultures when they first encountered the instrument) it sounded plain wrong. Basically, they SLACKENED some of the strings so that when they brushed a finger across the strings (without pressing any of the strings down) it now sounded melodic, because the re-tuned strings now formed a harmonious CHORD. A range of different tunings gradually evolved. As with more conventional playing, the left hand was still used to hold down the strings to form different individual notes or chords (groups of notes), and the thumb and finger of the right hand were used to “pick” individual strings to play a tune, or to strum the ...

What are the main changes do you plan to do for Spring? 23/03/2017

Not quite ALL-change, but...

What are the main changes do you plan to do for Spring? 2017 looks like being a memorable year – full of excitement, apprehension as well as the mundane, of course! Sorry for the lack of photos... Another spring… Having recently written a review about gardening, I’ll pass by spring plans for the garden, except to say that I usually share surplus seedlings with colleagues from work. It’s a way of encouraging others to grow wildlife-friendly (especially for pollinating insects) plants. On a more mundane level, there is a job that is long overdue. Our previous cat suffered from a fairly acute skin condition that I think was triggered by a nervous reaction to the arrival of two very boisterous dogs next door that used to jump up at the fence and bark when he came up the drive. The skin condition also made him hyper-allergic to flea bites. We got in the habit twice a year of moving all the downstairs furniture to the middle of the room , hoovering the edges of the carpets, and spraying an aerosol insecticide that targets flea eggs and larvae so that the blighters don’t grow into biting adulthood. Mrs M has a chronic lung condition, so it will fall upon me to do the deed. On the other hand, it’s the motive to undertake a through spring-clean! Taking charge of care My Mum will be 90 years old in August. She still lives alone but I find that I need to take more initiative and decisions for her – even though she insists that she “can manage”! Much against her wishes, I have contacted a gardener to do some routine maintenance ...

Behind Enemy Lines - Sir Tommy MacPherson, Richard Bath 19/03/2017

One man's tale, one man's considerable impact

Behind Enemy Lines - Sir Tommy MacPherson, Richard Bath (A little galling to propose this product and have a "Lifted" review bag the "First review" - but there you go!!) This book tells a gripping story, and its fascination derives from several factors. Firstly, it is essentially one man’s wartime story. It is autobiographical (though was written with assistance) and recounted in the first person, which makes it more dramatic and immediate. Secondly, it’s about one man who had a huge impact on the outcome of various campaigns during the Second World War. This is especially striking given that he wasn’t a politician or a military chief of staff, but an officer very much on the ground, taking part in or leading small-scale military actions. This is reflected in the decorations he was awarded. At the time of the publication of the book, Sir Tommy MacPherson was the most decorated living British soldier, with three Military Crosses, three (French) Croix de Guerre and a Legion d’Honeur, and a papal knighthood. I found it fascinating for a few other reasons, too. Although I was aware that Yugoslavia sought to extend its border into Italian territory as the War drew on and the Germans began to withdraw from Italy, this book gave some interesting insights into President Tito’s aspirations – and how they were defeated. The book I have the paperback edition, with 272 pages and 8 pages of black and white photographs. I think it’s a slight pity that the illustrations haven’t been reproduced on glossy paper, which would have ...

Do you see your garden as a haven, a labour of love or a chore to keep on top of? 09/03/2017

Therapy for me, a mini haven for wildlife

Do you see your garden as a haven, a labour of love or a chore to keep on top of? Limited time means that I’d like to be a more active gardener, but, my garden brings me great enjoyment and, I hope, does the same for some wildlife. My garden is pretty much of “pocket handkerchief” size, both front and back, situated on the edge of town. But Mrs M and I try to do what we can to give nature a hand. I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a passionate interest in wildlife. Mowing the lawn became a phaff. The previous house owners made most of the back garden into a patio, with concrete flags on the lower level and slate crazy paving on the upper one (I gather it was “obtained” free from somewhere, like the materials that built the extension, but there you go). I ran out of patience with pushing and constantly turning a lawn mower across a tiny front lawn, and over two hard winters the grass got severely damaged due to our crossing it to replenish the bird feeder. The CHORE was laid to rest. I laid a woven but porous membrane and laid creamy brown pebbles. As well as removing the need to mow, it looks brighter on a dreary winter day than grass does! (photo 1) One advantage of a small garden – besides minimising the time required to maintain it – is that it makes me think hard about what to plant and grow. Everything has to earn its place in some way or other. Sometimes things don't turn out as expected, but there's always another year! Far from being a chore, I find gardening VERY THERAPEUTIC. Sitting around watching TV isn’t my thing, and ...

The Nazi Hunters - Damien Lewis 22/02/2017

A fight against soldiers and a fight for justice

The Nazi Hunters - Damien Lewis This book tells a story so secret that for a long time that even many within the Special Air Service knew nothing about. In fact, the publication of this book constitutes its first public telling. Officially disbanded in 1945 (though reconstituted in the 1950s, the SAS operated semi-officially into 1948, tasked with a highly sensitive and secret mission. Their task met considerable military and political pressure, and it is to the tribute especially of Colonel Brian Franks and a Russian Prince, Yurka Galitzine who had helpful connections in Britain. Two tales, not one The unusual aspect of this book is that it really tells two stories, though they are closely connected. <><><> Where it began… In 1944, eighty SAS men were dropped by parachute into the French mountains on the French-German border. The Germans were in retreat – but, contrary to intelligence received, a large number of German troops were stationed in the area, and were aware of the parachute drop almost immediately. Notwithstanding the challenges of the forested mountains and the dogged determination of the local French civilians to maintain silence, the hunt was soon up. Local maquisards (“Resistance”) and British troops alike played mouse-and-cat with the Germans. The task was intended to be two-fold. Firstly, the men were to oversee and coordinate airdrops and distribution of much-needed weapons for the French maquis. Secondly, they were to create havoc, disruption and fear among the German troops by ...

Leningrad State of Siege - Michael Jones 13/02/2017

When bread becomes currency

Leningrad State of Siege - Michael Jones Most people equate the word “siege” with a medieval castle surrounded by a hostile army, cutting off supplies and forcing it to capitulate, despite being well defended by thick walls and towers. This book tells of a modern siege that lasted for 870 days from 1941 to 1943 by the German army. They shelled Leningrad repeatedly, and central food stores were the first targets. Hundreds of thousands died of cold and starvation (tragically the siege spanned two exceptionally severe winters). Wood was in short supply, and furniture was used for fuel. Broken windows were covered with cardboard; there wasn’t enough wood for coffins, and many were buried in mass graves, often having laid in streets where they fell for a days or weeks. At the peak of the siege thousands died on a daily basis. Glue was scraped from furniture as a food supplement. One survivor tells of watching her aged parents failing and hoping that they would die soon, to inherit the most precious legacy – their bread ration. Leather belts were boiled and eaten, a little at a time. The daily bread ration for white collar workers was cut from 250 grams to 125. Even this comprised decreasing amounts of flour, supplemented by wood shavings, floor sweepings, and dust. The most awful aspect of all was the siege’s aim, however. The goal was not to capture but to destroy it – and to do so by starvation. To Hitler, the city represented the embodiment of the Bolshevism that he detested. The book I like the way that the ...

The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich - Callum Macdonald 06/02/2017

An exciting tale thoroughly but unengagingly told

The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich - Callum Macdonald More years ago than I care to remember I saw a movie, “Operation: Daybreak” – about an attempt to assassinate a leading Nazi official in Czechoslovakia in 1942. Since then another movie has been released, “Operation Anthropoid”, which I haven’t seen. This book caught my eye (no prizes for guessing where!) and, intrigued by the subject and with vague recollections of the ending of the movie that I saw, I decided to buy it. Unlike many of the other books about the Second World War that I’ve read (and reviewed!) I have mixed feelings about this one, as I’ll explain. Part of the fascination lies in the assassination being the only wartime assassination of a senior Nazi official undertaken under British auspices. Who? Reinhard Heydrich was one of the most distrusted Nazi leaders within the leadership as well as one of the most feared beyond it. His broad, unmanly hips and high pitched voice had caused him to be bullied in his early manhood. He was suspected of being partly Jewish, and although this was untrue, it earned him the nickname “The blond Moses” in the navy, and dogged him into his fledgling political activist days. Having attained a position of prominence, and with the protection of Himmler, he had set his sights high. He aspired to be Hitler’s successor when the Fuhrer had passed away (it was assumed after all that the Reich would last for a thousand years!) More importantly, he was seen in this light by some other leading Nazis. He had a dossier on endless ...

Cameras or smart phones: how do you capture magical moments? 29/01/2017

It's all about the quality

Cameras or smart phones: how do you capture magical moments? I don’t have a middle name, but if I did it would perhaps be “Jurassic”. The answer to this question is easy for me. I don’t have a smart phone. I do have a mobile, but with a fairly low IQ rather than being smart. I don’t use my mobile phone much, though I’m tempted to pretend to use it more to give me an excuse to expect others to get out of my way on pavements and in shops. Although it has a camera, I haven’t used it much. I can see the advantage of having a device ready to hand to capture this or that image when out. I can really appreciate the value of a smart phone camera for capturing fleeting moments of children having fun or of other “grabbed” shots. But for most magical moments I’d choose a camera every time. Versatility I do know that quality smart phones can capture a decent shot. The lenses are quite good and there’s enough technical wizardry to deliver a decent image in terms of definition. I must admit that there have been occasions when I’ve wished I’d had a reasonable camera in my pocket; there have been too many occasions when I’ve been without a camera and seen something I’ve wanted to snap. Often, though, this is my own fault. I should know better. Okay, it isn’t convenient to carry my fairly bulky bridge cameras everywhere I go – or to risk it getting damaged or stolen. There’s really no excuse for me to go out for the day and leave it behind just because it’s a place we’ve been before and of which I have a number of photos already! And whilst it ...
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