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Best wishes to all, and thanks for your kind rates and comments, have been half-expecting the latest announcement for at least the last year. Have thoroughly enjoyed being a member over the last couple of years or so.

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since 28/08/2015


John Le Carre: The Biography - Adam Sisman 10/12/2017

Biography of a master spy-writer

John Le Carre: The Biography - Adam Sisman I’ve only read four books by John le Carre, but I enjoyed three of them enough, and the television dramatisations of “Tinker, Tailor” and “Smiley’s People” to want to buy and read the biography of the enigmatic author. I was bought this as a present and have only just got around to reading it. In part this is due to its length – 600 pages in paperback – and to the small font of the text, making the reading of it a little tiring on the eyes. Nevertheless, given the many acclaims on the back cover and the inside of the front cover (and spreading to the frontispiece), it held great promise. Introducing John le Carre John le Carre is the pen name of one David Cornwell, who for years kept much of his private life out of the public domain. Adam Sisman obtained his permission to write an authorised biography, and to have access to Cornwell and to many of his letters and other documents, too. This book answers the long-unresolved question whether Cornwell had ever served in MI5 or MI6. The easiest way to understand the roles of each is that MI5 is concerned with intelligence collection to aid the defence of the realm against security threats, whereas MI6 is primarily concerned with intelligence that will help Britain to undermine or work against foreign regimes. It covers Cornwell’s childhood in considerable depth, his early career, and his writing career. Style I found the book grammatically strong, and well written in terms of vocabulary and readability, the latter in ...

Do you have any coping strategies for the cold, dark mornings and long winter evenings? 27/11/2017

Putting the time to good use?

Do you have any coping strategies for the cold, dark mornings and long winter evenings? I confess to preferring spring to autumn, by a long way. Spring promises longer days to come, and the tantalising possibility of warmer weather; autumn promises shorter days and the potential for bad weather, possibly even with disruptive or damaging results. This year is an exception! Having retired from 34 years’ service in local government this July I’m now working part-time, four and a half hours per day each weekday. After three months of not working, I’m very content. My income is part-way between my current superannuation pension and my former salary; equally importantly, I have a routine that makes me value my “spare” time, but have three hours per day additional spare time than I had previously. This extra time will give me several STRATEGIES FOR COPING WITH COLD, DARK MORNINGS AND LONG WINTER EVENINGS... CD collection My CD collection has outgrown its storage space. Worse than this, some of them are becoming hard to find in the “overflow”. A bit like looking for an elusive file at work, I can waste time hunting for this or that title. Project number one is to empty my CD racks and re-load, prioritising my “folk” albums (about a third of my nearly 400-title collection), and leaving gaps for future additions! I’ll then try to rationalise the storage of the rest of my collection. In addition, some of my card-sleeved albums (a plague upon such things!) will be rehomed in jewel cases to protect their original packaging (some of which are autographed), which I’ll ...

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle 07/11/2017

"I imagine you saw all I did... I may have deduced a little more"

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle I was quite late coming to reading Sherlock Holmes stories, though that’s hardly surprising given that I prefer non-fiction. I saw by some red, imitation leather hardback volumes and my mind was soon made up! The author Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh and qualified as a doctor in 1885. He practiced as an eye specialist but gradually moved to writing full-time. After “A Study In Scarlet” was published (in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887, Holmes stories were serialised from 1891 in the highly esteemed “Strand” Magazine. The short stories I’m a little torn on the merits of the short stories. In some ways I prefer the meatier “The Hound Of The Baskervilles” and “The Sign Of The Four”. On the other hand, the short stories in this and some companion volumes have an appeal of their own. It’s fun (and easier) to try to second-guess what is going on, and the short stories are handy to read when life is busy and reading a longer book is more time consuming or demands more concentration. Those unfamiliar with Sherlock Holmes tales may be surprised to discover that they are essentially mysteries rather than murder or even crime mysteries. Sometimes no crime has been committed at all, but deal with a mysterious disappearance (for example) that has an innocuous but surprising outcome. In case you have seen a TV dramatization of some of them, or in case you may have dipped your toe in reading some Holmes tales, these are the stories included: A Scandal In Bohemia; ...

The China Syndrome (DVD) 05/11/2017

"You almost exposed the core!"

The China Syndrome (DVD) This is a film that I remember seeing at the cinema soon after its release, and, as it was on Freeview TV last week, I decided to watch and review it. The title is a little cryptic, but comes from an alleged name given to a meltdown of a nuclear power core. According to this movie, at least, the core will supposedly melt through the earth and emerge on the other side – China – though the scientist who explains this says that it couldn’t actually happen, and that instead the core would release toxic radiation into the atmosphere instead. + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + >>> FILM ONLY REVIEW <<< + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + Plot On a seemingly routine tour of a nuclear power station for a regional news programme, freelance cameraman Richard Adams ignores the instruction that filming is not allowed in the viewing gallery overlooking the control room, and surreptitiously leaves his camera running. A few minutes later, it is evident that a problem has arisen, and despite the initial calmness of the pIant’s staff, the situation clearly escalates. Warning sirens and lights are triggered, and all staff are urged to find a place of safety. Although the situation is quickly restored, it seems as though the news team have captured a scoop – the film footage shows the fear and panic within the control room as the steps were taken to restore the correct water coolant level in the reactor, and evident jubilation as normality is restored. Will their bosses allow the story to ...

Our Zoo (DVD) 02/11/2017

Nice but over-whimsical story of the founding of Chester Zoo

Our Zoo (DVD) In my teens I borrowed a book from the library, “A Zoo Without Bars” written by its founder, George Mottershead. It had been his ambition to display animals in a far nicer setting than in small, austere cages surrounded by thick iron bars. It was a lovely read, as it covered the Zoo’s founding and on through many successive years. I can still remember one or two incidents quoted in it, actually. The drama “Our Zoo” is based on a book of the same title by the author’s daughter, June; I haven’t read it (though I bought a copy for Mrs M), so can’t make any comparisons or comment on how closely it follows true events. The DVD cover makes the claim “Funny, heartfelt, and dramatic, Our Zoo is an exhilarating tale about one family’s struggle to build a new life for themselves and all creatures, great and small”. Plot George Mottershead, a First World War veteran, lives with his parents at their grocery business, along with his wife and two daughters. On impulse, after a visit to a circus, he buys one of their animals, to give it a better life. It’s no performing poodle or pony, though! Before long he finds himself drawn to purchasing more exotic animals. It’s clear that other arrangements have to be found if he is to house them. Eventually he tries to buy a former manor house and adjoining land. Funding the purchase is only part of the problem. There is massive opposition, the strongest also being the most furtive. On the other hand, help and support also come from some ...

K-19: The Widowmaker (DVD) 30/10/2017

"I took this to the edge so that we know where that is..."

K-19: The Widowmaker (DVD) After 28 years of silence and secrecy in Russia, a harrowing tale emerges. It’s doubly harrowing because it’s true. To be more accurate, the movie makes the claim to be “inspired by” a true story, which is different than a claim to portray one! + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + FILM ONLY REVIEW + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + Plot On a training exercise at sea during the Cold War – despite previous technical defects and shortcomings having been identified – a “flagship” Russian nuclear submarine and its crew are put through their paces. A political officer is its overall captain, determined that men a ship be tested to the limit; in fact, for realism, they are tested beyond limits considered safe. There are ominous signs from the outset, and even before it sets sail the ship has earned the nickname “Widowmaker”. In reality, after the event, the ship earned the nickname “Hiroshima”. A serious construction fault becomes apparent, and the sensible solution is to abandon the mission. The situation threatens total disaster. Will the mission ne abandoned? Will the order be given to abandon ship and the ship be scuttled? Will a mutiny remove the political captain and allow common sense to prevail? Will common sense prevail and the help of the Americans be sought, even if that means losing the ship to them? Acting I think that the acting is generally of a high standard, though HARRISON FORD as CAPTAIN VOSTRIKOV, is cast true to his accustomed wooden type. In this instance it ...

The Stanley Holloway Monologues - Stanley Holloway 28/10/2017

Wallace and Albert

The Stanley Holloway Monologues - Stanley Holloway Like the two Jungle Book volumes, this is a book I found while clearing my Mum’s house due it being up for sale. People of an older generation may well have heard of some of the comical monologues performed by Stanley Holloway (but many were penned by others). He performed them in variety-type acts between 1929-1941, and recorded many of them. Their appeal largely derived from their being written, and spoken, in northern dialect and/or accents. Many northerners were able to laugh at themselves as depicted, and those from other parts of the country doubtless found it fun to have their stereotyped images confirmed! Contents The book (34 monologues in all) is divided into three sections: ~ + ~ + ~ Sam Small These are tales of a man who served in Wellington’s army at Waterloo ~ + ~ + ~ Albert Ramsbottom These are tales of a young lad from Lancashire who, amongst other adventures, had a rather unpleasant experience when he poked a lion named Wallace at Blackpool Zoo. ~ + ~ + ~ Miscellaneous Monologues These include some spoof historical tales, such as The Battle Of Hastings, and The Magna Charter (so spelled!), some variations on Bible stories (Noah, and Jonah), and a number of others, including “Uppards”, (“A Lancashire Version Of Longfellow’s Famous Poem ‘Excelsior’”). There’s also one dedicated to the Yorkshire Pudding! There’s a foreword by Holloway, a history/critique by Michael Marshall, and a list of recordings (much of which is out of date now). A number of ...

Everything that starts with I ... 26/10/2017

I is for Irish high (penny/tin) whistle

Everything that starts with I ... After fiddle, my second favourite “Celtic” instrument is the whistle. The “high” (as in “high pitched”, as opposed to the “low”, harder to play instrument) whistle makes a great instrument for adults or children alike, especially as a first instrument. Why? ~ ~ ~ it’s simple to play. Even without a tutor book it’s quite easy to “find” the notes to play a simple tune. It’s easy to play the notes in terms both of fingers and mouth, too ~ ~ ~ it’s cheap: a brass, or nickel one that’s made from a rolled sheet of metal costs as little as £6 or £7. Semi-professional or professional “solid” alloy ones cost much more. There aren’t many mid-range, but Tony Dixon produce some alloy or solid brass ones for about £60-£70. ~ ~ ~ it’s good value – even lower end instruments produce a decent and authentic sound; even some professional players use them ~ ~ ~ it’s versatile. Besides traditional “Celtic” or other folk music, it can be used for a range of simple tunes, from nursery rhymes to simple pop music The instrument Whistles are “modal” rather than “chromatic” instruments, with a limited range of notes. This makes them easier to play than recorders. Each instrument is made to play in one musical key, though, practically speaking, each can play in two keys. A “D” whistle enables playing in the key of D or G, a “C” whistle to play in the key of C or F. The closer spacing of the holes also makes “C” or “D” whistles easier to play. ~ ~ ~ I strongly recommend a “D” or a “C” ...

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (DVD) 25/10/2017

A half-expected disappointment

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (DVD) I’ve read Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings half a dozen times or so over the years. I was also – with one or two slight reservations – most impressed by Peter Jackson’s trilogy of films. I had some misgivings when I heard of a movie of “The Hobbit”. Unlike the 3-volume novel “The Lord Of The Rings”, “The Hobbit” is a one-part, fairly brief, children’s tale. Also, although some of the characters – and even the Ring itself – occur in both, both they and their roles are massively developed in “The Lord Of The Rings”. My misgivings were increased when I heard that the film of “The Hobbit” was to be a trilogy also, effectively making it as epic a tale as its far lengthier (and more serious) successor. I tried to watch each of the three “Hobbit” films with an open mind, and was pleased that there were parts of the film that I liked, I found them disappointing overall. Anyway, here is my review of the first part of the film trilogy of “The Hobbit”. ++++++++++ SUMMARY Directed: Peter Jackson Cast (part): Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Ian Holm, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy Music: Howard Shore Released: 2012 Certificate: 12 (moderate violence) Playing time: 163 minutes ++++++++++ Plot Hobbits are about half the size of humans, and their home is The Shire, in Middle Earth. One day, Bilbo Baggins has a visit from Gandalf, a wizard, and a surprise party is arranged at his house. With mixed feelings about the matter, Bilbo ...

Second Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling 23/10/2017

As good as the first?

Second Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling Having recently reviewed “The Jungle Book”, and having retrieved “The Second Jungle Book” from my Mum’s house as part of clearing it, I thought I’d read and review it as well. ”I never knew there was a second one!” This may be your reaction. I suspect that this is mainly down to the Disney movies. As mentioned in my earlier review, Kipling’s original “Jungle Book” isn’t just the story of Mowgli, but a collection of stories, some, but not all, about him. This second book follows a similar pattern. There are stories about Mowgli, other stories based in India, and one story about the Inuit people. Each story is followed by a poem or “song”. Contents ~ ~ ~ How Fear Came / The Law Of The Jungle ~ ~ ~ Set in a time of drought when Mowgli and his companions are hungry and thirsty, this is something of a fable told by Hathi the elephant. I find it quite enjoyable, but not one of the best chapters. It’s followed by a poem which is a kind of code of conduct binding on all the animals of the Jungle. ~ ~ ~ The Miracle Of Purun Bhagat / A Song Of Kabir ~ ~ ~ As in “The Jungle Book”, this volume also has some tales that are primarily about humans. This is certainly a story with a difference. It tells of what we would now call a career or lifestyle change. A highly esteemed Prime Minister of a north-western state of India, “so far as the world’s affairs went, he died”. He turned his back on his political and successful life to become a “holy man”. As for the miracle – well, ...

Jackson C. Frank - Jackson C. Frank 22/10/2017

Little known but produced by, and song covered by, Paul Simon

Jackson C. Frank - Jackson C. Frank ++++++++++ PLEASE IGNORE THE TRAVESTY THAT THIS ALBUM IS SOMEHOW LINKED TO A “STEPS” ALBUM ON CIAO – IT’S A GENUINE ERROR, NO DOUBT, BUT, ALTHOUGH THERE ARE APPARENTLY ALREADY 33 REVIEWS OF THIS ALBUM BY JACKSON C FRANK, THIS IS IN FACT THE FIRST! ALSO.. Sadly, music reviews aren’t only exempt from Diamond awards and Premium Fund – like books – but don’t earn a single penny either for the writing or for any rating received. I think Ciao is the poorer for the absence of music reviews, and despite earning no money for writing them, I still want to recommend some worthwhile listening. ++++++++++ Jackson C Frank’s story is enough to make a grown man weep. It also explains the power of his songs, and it’s a pity that he is so little known. Born in 1943, he was both severely traumatised and badly burned in a school fire at the age of 11. Fifteen classmates, died, including his then childhood girlfriend. His teacher brought a guitar to his hospital bed to help him occupy himself. Elvis was his guitar hero and he had the good fortune, on a visit to Graceland at the age of 13, to have his photo taken next to his hero! An insurance cheque funded a trip to England, where he soon became a part of the booming ‘60s folk scene. He liked flashy cars but largely avoided drink and drug excesses, and was generous towards musical colleagues who struggled financially. His songs are sad, but not dripping with self-pity. He played a Martin (acoustic) guitar, which was unusual in such a ...

Arnhem - A Bridge Too Far (DVD) 20/10/2017

"Do they know something we don't?"

Arnhem - A Bridge Too Far (DVD) Operation “Market Garden” was a bold plan – ambitious and risky. The idea was to drop US and British airborne forces German lines in Holland, to secure a string of key bridges along a route that would lead to the industrial heartland of the Ruhr. It was also necessary to try to neutralise the V2 rocket threat to Britain. These forces – 34,600 of them – would secure AND HOLD the bridges until reinforcements arrived. “Market” was the airborne part of the operation, that would involve a total of 5,000 aircraft. “Garden” was the ground force part of the operation, “XXX (Thirty) Corps”, consisting of tanks and infantry already in France. Would the crossing at Arnhem prove to be abridge TOO FAR, however? Faulty radios and bad weather that delayed the landing of some of the airborne forces, plagued the operation form its early stages. Add to the mix that, far from a motley band of ineffective, inexperienced soldiers, the German army had an elite armoured division (9th SS Panzer) regiment based at Arnhem, and the odds were heavily stacked against the 10,000 men landed there. For the British and Polish troops at Arnhem to be able to hold out, relief needed to be speedy, no more than three days; their supplies of food and ammunition were severely limited. This war movie, replete as ever with its star-studded cast (including Edward Fox, Dirk Bogarde, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman and Robert Redford, Elliott Gould, Denholm Elliott) is based on the events ...

The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling 18/10/2017

Tales and tails of the Jungle

The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling Kipling’s “Just So” and “Jungle Book” stories formed part of my childhood, partly as they were considered children’s classics – but then I am fairly old now! I had some of them read to me, later read them myself, and heard a TV narration of “Rikki Tikki Tavi” – on “Blue Peter”, I think. My Mum had hardback copies (including “The Second Jungle Book”) which I’ve now claimed as a result of clearing her house! I loved some of them as a child, but to be honest found them of varying interest. Many years later I saw a beautifully illustrated hardback edition which I bought for my son as a Christmas present with money sent by an aunt of mine. Not like the animated movies! “The Jungle Book” is a collection of stories featuring animals, and isn’t a single take about a boy growing up under the care of animals in the Indian jungle. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation. Interwoven between the chapters are poems or “songs” that describe the sentiments of one of the characters in the preceding story. Language and style The language is, of course, a little antiquated, and at times somewhat (intentionally) grandiose, though some would feel that this adds to its appeal. I suspect that the appeal at the time the book was written were three-fold. FIRSTLY, its content and setting were exotic. India was a place that most British people knew of, but had only seen a few images of, and was exotic in terms of its climate, geography, culture – and wildlife. SECONDLY, many children ...

Lightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian/Folkways] - Lightnin' Hopkins 16/10/2017

"I'm gonna do time for another man.. you oughta be ashamed"

Lightnin' Hopkins [Smithsonian/Folkways] - Lightnin' Hopkins ++++++++++ Sadly, although the most mundane – and conversely, the most expensive consumer products – earn money as well as points on Ciao, music reviews aren’t only exempt from Diamond awards and Premium Fund – like books – but don’t earn a single penny in the writing or for any rating received. Sharing some great music was my main reason for joining the site. I think it’s the poorer for the absence of music reviews, and despite earning no money for writing them, I still want to recommend some worthwhile listening. ++++++++++ In 1959 an attempt was made to acquaint those caught up in the American “folk” revival with Lightnin’ Hopkins’ music. This album is the result of him being tracked down – understandably sceptical – and persuaded to record for Smithsonian/Folkways, a label dedicated to discovering obscure singers and players and to rediscovering others. The microphone was held by hand and angled alternately towards his mouth and his guitar! Sam Charters, who tracked down and recorded Lightnin’ for this album, says in the sleeve notes: “This was the kind of blues singer that everyone hoped to find – someone who was a great guitarist, a warm, loose, singer, and who was also in his way an unconventional rebel”. He goes on to say that whenever he was asked later to define the sound of the country blues, he would play this album. It may be partly due to nostalgia or personal joy in meeting the man, but Charters also says that throughout all the following years Lighnin’ ...

Go For Broke 14/10/2017

"You've WON, you loser!"

Go For Broke In another game review (“Careers”) I mentioned my loathing for Monopoly, because it always seems to bring out the worst in people. Also, to me, it reaches the point where it becomes fairly obvious who is going to win, but the remaining players are gradually and tediously ground down to bring about the final victory. My son bought this game many years ago. We still find it very enjoyable, as it is light-hearted, and novel. Aim At the risk of stating the obvious (starting the game with a million pounds of cash) the winning player is the first to LOSE all his or her money! Number of players Suitable for 2-4 players, aged 8. One must double up as the “banker”. £ £ £ In my opinion, the minimum age is realistic, and it is suitable as a family game OR for adults. We still play it as a family, and the youngest is 31 years old! ££ £ No pen and paper are included, but we think it’s important to log bets placed at The Casino to prevent confusion. The board The board consists of a course of adjoining squares. Players move according to dice throw. It has a large blank oblong in the middle to accommodate a plastic section containing four spinning devices for The Races, The Stock Exchange and The Casino. Going for broke… All squares give an instruction to pay/buy, win/draw money, or proceed elsewhere. The appropriate square allows the purchase of a steel, oil, or electricity company share – for which a certificate is issued (see below, “The Stock Exchange”). Other ...
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