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Al Kitching (Cambridge, UK)

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The English Resistance: The Underground War Against the Normans
The English Resistance: The Underground War Against the Normans
by Peter Rex
Edition: Paperback

98 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars *not* La Résistance!, 6 April 2004
To paraphrase H.G Wells rather melodramatically, no one would believe in the first years of the 21st century that this nation was once watched keenly and covetously by formidable personalities from across the channel; that as Englishmen busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied...
The aftermath to the Battle of Hastings was violent and ruthless. William of Normandy's achievements can be seen as a formidable combination of both clear-minded political magination and merciless, hard-nosed execution. However, after William's victory in 1066, the English were not a people who could simply roll over and allow the invaders free access to the island's bounty. A tough and equally brutal resistance was fought against Norman rule for a further five years.
Peter Rex's brilliantly researched book overturns today's meekly accepted stance that the Normans invaded and that was that. Walt, in Julian Rathbone's "The Last English King", refuses to call William 'the Conqueror' (preferring, as you might expect, an earthier soubriquet referencing William's illegitimacy) and the impression you get from "The English Resistance" is similarly one of a population rejecting the concept that they are under enemy control.
Every campaign fought during the years 1067 to 1071 is detailed, with Rex analysing the resistance's character, its motives and its triumphs and disappointments. Here, we are focussed on a time when England was divided into occupied and unoccupied zones, collaborative areas and no-go districts, resistance movements spreading through remote areas of the country.
The book examines William's responses, his initial attempts at pacification, and then the notorious harrying of the north (a rather impotent euphemism that, I've always thought, for which we might readily substitute 'genocide' or 'ethnic cleansing' if these battles and skirmishes were being played out on our news screens today). This is an eloquent portrayal of a chaotic period, which demonstrates that the English were not conquered as easily as was once thought. Perhaps the comparison with "The War of the Worlds" isn't quite so inappropriate after all.

To Serve Them All My Days - Parts 1, 2 and 3 [1980] [DVD]
To Serve Them All My Days - Parts 1, 2 and 3 [1980] [DVD]
Dvd ~ John Duttine
Offered by WorldCinema
Price: £49.99

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars finally, 26 Jan. 2004
It's taken a while (a substantial understatement) but 'To Serve Them All My Days' one of the Beeb's finest ever dramas gets the DVD release its many admirers have for long demanded. And it beggars the question, what have the BBC been playing at?
TSTAMD - an Andrew Davies adaptation don't forget - has been criminally ignored by the Beeb for years, garnering only a late-night re-run on UK Drama in recent memory. They should be truly ashamed of themselves.
It'd not a promising premise; shell-shocked socialist miner's son recuperates from his experiences at Passchendaele by taking a job as history master at third division public school.
The drama takes place between the wars, following young David Powlett-Jones as he grows up and learns to compromise his hotheadedness enough to actually teach his young charges something about 'real' life. Like all the best stories it's about change, about reacting and growing and moving on. And it's done briliantly.
It'll fly off the shelves, and I'm getting my order in now.

Amner: Cathedral Music
Amner: Cathedral Music
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £16.95

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sublime, 10 Dec. 2003
This review is from: Amner: Cathedral Music (Audio CD)
There's a wonderful unknown (not in a Donald Rumsfeld kind of way) quality to Amner's Cathedral Music. Having lived in Ely - in John Amner Close, in fact - for some time, I thought it only right and proper that I investigate the man and his work and apart from this fabulous collection of pieces and a few snippets about his life (1579-1641; organist & choirmaster at Ely Cathedral 1610-1641) there is virtually nothing...
This helps. Really.
The choral arrangements here are so sparkling and unique that to colour one's perceptions by bringing in the prejudices and preconceptions associated with other artists would be to undermine what is a beautifully delicate work.
Just the first few seconds of Te Deum (Cesar's Service) will take you high up into the cathedral's Norman arches, beyond the clerestory and out past the Lady Choir, before embracing the stonework, the timber, the glass and the lead, and becoming a part of the very fabric itself. Well, maybe not. But it does have a damn good go.

Not the Slightest Chance: The Defence of Hong Kong, 1941
Not the Slightest Chance: The Defence of Hong Kong, 1941
by Tony Banham
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant, 29 Oct. 2003
Yes, brilliant, an overused phrase, but that's what we have here.
In future all copies of respectable dictionaries, encyclopia and other reference works will need to place a thumbnail icon of NtSC:TDoHK next to definitions of 'exhaustive' or 'comprehensive'. As a research tool it's invaluable, but it reads wonderfully well too, with a strong and compelling narrative force that's totally unique.
Heartily recommended.

On Cape Three Points
On Cape Three Points
by Christopher Wakling
Edition: Paperback

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars out of the blocks, 29 Oct. 2003
This review is from: On Cape Three Points (Paperback)
I have to be honest here and declare that I would normally avoid anything that might be, even remotely, touched with the 'corporate' or 'legal' thriller tag. I just think eek! Grisham and go into shutdown mode. Not my thang, not my thang at all. Still, I came to 'On Cape Three Points' by a slightly odd route and after a little investigation became intrigued, and so it found itself at the top of my list. And a jolly good thing too.
Intentions are trumpeted from the first lines, the now well-quoted "Thirteen days ago I made a mistake. A momentary slip, but enough to launch me into freefall, a life unravelling in my wake."
Indeed, we're given a sketch of our narrator before we even turn that first page: Lewis Penn, mid-twenties, successful business lawyer with ginormous London law firm Madison & Vere, a penchant for detail; a deal striker, a note-taker, a pen pusher, a man taking the middle ground to get to the higher plains the conventional way. Half a dozen pages later and the 'momentary slip' happens. Entrusted with a file of confidential papers, Lewis loses them and tries to cover his tracks rather than admit his error.
And essentially that's all you need to know, because the details of circumstance are ultimately of little importance. All you really need to be aware of is that Lewis has mucked up, and royally. Every step he takes bounces him further and further into touch, but our interest – and this is where Wakling diverts smartly away from the roller coaster ride of your ten-a-penny-dreadful first novel tyros – relies less and less on events and much more critically on the moral and psychological rewiring his fallible protagonist is forced to undertake. It also helps that what we have here is good writing, neat turns of phrase and something with substantial literary merit behind it. Wakling a) knows what he's talking about and b) enjoys describing it.
Anyway ... increasingly, steadily, Lewis's paranoia begins to take hold. He can only confide in one person, his dying brother, Dan, but as Lewis's life begins to fall apart, it appears that Dan's is also coloured by deception. The graceless, faltering arc takes Lewis from London to Washington DC and back to London, but every move he makes, every decision he reaches is the wrong one, and when his home is turned upside down, he becomes convinced he is being pursued.
Lewis, a man keen on detail, is following a career path that makes anal retention a godly virtue. One tiny step outside the circle and the architecture creaks. One further step, and another, and it crumbles. In a way it reminded me of the best of Cronenberg, a man also keen to prove that beneath a tiny veneer of skin there's a world of horror waiting for us. As a study of human foibles, with an all too imperfect hero at its core, a clever take on identity and something significantly removed from what you might expect, On Cape Three Points is a considerable achievement.

Alma Cogan: A Novel
Alma Cogan: A Novel
by Gordon Burn
Edition: Paperback

12 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Burn burns darkly, 7 April 2003
This review is from: Alma Cogan: A Novel (Paperback)
Gordon Burn is probably unique.
Not an easy phrase to throw around, is it? We live, I fear, in a world where 'awe' and 'splendour' is all too simple to achieve and compartmentalise. Mundane products are advertised with grandiose soul stirring taglines. The world, as David Thewlis's character in 'Naked' says, has been explained to us, and we're bored with it. Consequently, to sell anything to anyone, we are promised The Experience Of A Lifetime (TM) regardless of whether we're talking a new car, a pair of sunglasses or the latest Pizza Hut pizza.
Gordon Burn, you can tell, doesn't agree with that. All his stuff says; Yeah? You reckon we're so great? Well just take a little look through this hole and then tell me what you think. He gives us a torch with dodgy batteries and chucks us head first into the dark, and lets us piece it all together slowly, languidly, with (as in Happy Like Murderers) seemingly mundane detail, until we have everything and just as we begin to put the bits together, the torch begins to flicker, and...
Alma Cogan takes a bold step forward into a fully realised fantasy world of alternative history and exposes the fickle nature of fame for a long-departed, nearly-forgotten star. The ending creeps up with superb tension and desperate ugliness.
No-one who reads Hello! or OK! has ever read this book.
As I say, the man's a genius.

The Wind in the Willows (Penguin Popular Classics)
The Wind in the Willows (Penguin Popular Classics)
by Kenneth Grahame
Edition: Paperback

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars totally engaging, 26 Mar. 2003
'The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home...'
I don't know the first lines of many books off by heart, but TWITW is such an immediate and engaging tale that there's no choice other than to fall neatly in step with Mole, Ratty, Badger and Toad straight away, and to stay there, if you're lucky for the rest of your life. I first read this when I was 7 or 8 and have revisited it many many times. To call it a children's book (and it's the greatest of all children's books) is to do it a massive disservice, for it is much much more than that.
I envy anyone picking it up for the first time.

Lincoln City F.C. The Official History
Lincoln City F.C. The Official History
by Ian Nannestad
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars football books don't come much better than this, 31 Oct. 2002
oh, you can have all the unreliable memoirs of bloated has-beens you want, but this mighty tome offers so much more than that; this is the story of the trials and tribulations of a club that is part of the fabric of sport in this country and should probably be listed under the headings for 'social history' if there were any justice. The fact that LCFC has - on so many occasions - threatened to be expunged from that fabric, make this account all the more enjoyable and poignant. Buy it, read it, tell your mates about it.

Fragrant Harbour
Fragrant Harbour
by John Lanchester
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars only partly satisfactory, 31 Oct. 2002
This review is from: Fragrant Harbour (Hardcover)
A year ago, I knew little about HK; but recently I discovered an Uncle of mine was incarcerated at Sham Shui Po at the start of the war (he was later killed on the 'Lisbon Maru'). This made me keen to find out more, but I'm afraid that 'Fragrant Harbour' is not the book to fulfill that wish.
The section I was most interested in (1939-42) is, I now know peppered with inaccuracies. Without wanting to get bogged down in too much pedantry, early December 1941: "that first series of Japanese bomber attacks destroyed all of Hong Kong's planes and anti-aircraft batteries - all it's air defences" is plainly untrue. AA guns were still being used at Wong Nai Chung Gap a week later. I found this a little lazy and quite frustrating.
Then we come to the 'the twist'. I won't ruin it for anyone by revealing it, but what a swizz. I went back over the relevant text, assuming I'd turned two pages over and missed the points of reference. I hadn't - they're just not there! You can't suddenly turn a story on it's head like this if you don't give the reader at least a fighting chance of 'getting it'. There was no "Aaah! I see", no outwitting involved. The twist is, simply, a cheat, and it put me in a very negative frame of mind for what remained.
That said, there *is* stuff to enjoy here. Dawn Stone is annoyingly self centred and you can see what the author's trying to do there. It's a shame Sister Maria is reduced to appearing in letters for so long, too, as she introduces a much needed spikey dynamic to proceedings and I enjoyed it when she was centre stage. Ultimately, though, the bad points outweigh the good, which is a damn shame.

The Last English King
The Last English King
by Julian Rathbone
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What is it Walt says, about the worst pain ...?, 9 April 2001
This review is from: The Last English King (Paperback)
...the memory of happiness lost. Walt wanders aimlessly about the Holy Land being at turns amazed and annoyed by the cynical and uncaring travellers he lands himself with. By the time he's told his story they have moved - just a little - in his direction.
Julian Rathbone's book is at times a pretty painful read. The climax (well, we all think we know what'll happen there) is still shocking and powerfully well done, although I thought the Battle of Stamford Bridge had more 'solidity' to it.
It's one of the best books I've read in a long,long time and I so I slowed down in the last third so that I could enjoy it all the more.

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