When I was 19 and a naive and carefree student, I had an older boyfriend of 25 who had just come out of the army. He used to tease me about my privileged lifestyle, and told me that when he was 19, he had been serving in Northern Ireland. A woman once came up to him and demanded to know what he was doing in her town guarding a checkpoint with a gun. 'It made me think,' he said. That story is one thing that helped me understand the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The other is a chapter headed 'Northern Ireland Perhaps' in this book.
Reporter Kate Adie describes the horrors of this war which, according to the BBC, should not be called a war. Her Northern Ireland is populated by grey-faced people who hate each other, '...a mass of badly nourished bags of nerves'. She tells of fights breaking out at funerals, of riots stopping dead because a Glasgow Rangers match was about to start. Of bleach thrown at soldiers, of soldiers sweeping ornaments from a woman's mantelpiece.
She recounts how her career took her from local radio where there was some question as to whether anybody was listening; to Libya, where someone was listening even when she wasn't on air - if you wanted room service, the best way to get it was to ring London and complain about how slow it was.
As with many autobiographies of women doing traditional men's work, the personal details were fascinating - the anecdote about what happened to the grubby tabloid hack going through her tent while she was reporting the first Gulf War was particularly good. This book also shows clearly that our Kate can use her elbows and fists if she has to. However, the book gave the impression of a very private woman - she drops hints about 'above average shopping' and singing and sailing and finding her biological mother, and then clams right up again. I wanted to stop her and ask for more - but that's better, I suppose, than wishing she would shut up.
I found this book badly edited. Possibly, the publishers were too scared of her to curb the sheer joy of a woman used to reporting in three-minute segments suddenly released into 400 pages. It is certainly very chatty and immediate, but a bit of careful red pen work would have tightened it up.
Read this book:
* if you want to work for the BBC
* if you want to be a journalist
* if you are a news junkie
* if you want to know what really happened in Libya, Northern Ireland and Kuwait
* if you admire Kate Adie's work