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The Sabotage Diaries
The Sabotage Diaries
by Katherine Barnes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful job of reconstruction, 6 Jun. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Sabotage Diaries (Paperback)
Katherine Barnes has done a wonderful job of bringing to life her father-in-law’s experiences as an engineer with the SOE in occupied Greece. To have used his diaries, reports and letters home in order to reconstruct the story and to write it so convincingly in the first person must have taken a lot of work and a lot of careful thought. I’ve read other accounts of occupied Greece, such as Dare to be Free and Ill-Met by Moonlight, which are engaging for their sense of immediacy, and I did have doubts as to whether something written by a third party so long afterwards could also be as immediate, but those doubts were proved wrong, as it's thrilling and personal and feels real. It gave fascinating, and sometimes harrowing, accounts of events, and some insight into the complex political situation in Greece at the time. Between the vicious occupying forces and the opposing local factions who might turn at any moment, there is a sense of things always being on a knife edge, the danger ever-present, and escape all but impossible. The critical attitude towards the ham-fistedness, I think that’s putting it politely, of official British policy, and the strange, growing one-sidedness of the BBC, were refreshing and informative. The photos collected really helped me to imagine the nature of the terrain and character of the people. Tom Barnes comes across as brave, resourceful and somehow larger than life, the sort of man you’d want with you in a tight situation and also the sort of chap you’d like to know. Katherine Barnes’ pride for her father-in-law comes across well in the book and rightly so.

Genevieve [DVD] (1953) (Special Edition )
Genevieve [DVD] (1953) (Special Edition )
Dvd ~ Dinah Sheridan
Price: £4.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Motoring heaven, 14 Mar. 2016
Just think – the “modern” cars in the film are now older than Genevieve was when the film was made. The Darracq and the Spyker were 49 years old in 1953, but the Austin A70 Hereford which pulls up at their first stop (if it’s still around) would now be 63. This film is a journey in time.

While based around cars, the film isn’t really about the cars, it’s about two couples: Ambrose Claverhouse, played by Kenneth More, and his date for the weekend, fashion model Rosalind, played by Kay Kendall, and Alan and Wendy McKim, played by John Gregson and Dinah Sheridan, who take their veteran cars on the London to Brighton run. Ambrose drives his 1904 Spyker and Alan the eponymous 1904 Darracq named Genevieve, once bought new by his grandfather and years later recovered from a scrapheap by his father (the Spyker is said in the film to date from 1904, but the actual car I believe is from 1905). Once in Brighton, Ambrose and Alan make a bet, against the rules of the Veteran Car Club, to race each other back to London the following day.

I find the characters very true.

It’s hard to like Alan; he’s childish, sulky, petulant, selfish, unfair, stiff and somehow unfathomable. Even when he buys Wendy a hat, the act has a selfish undertow to it. When he bashes the Allard belonging to the wife of the man who stops to help him, he doesn’t seem to care and is very rude to him. He has redeeming qualities, he’s dependable and he can do his own mechanical work, where Ambrose can’t. Only when he stops to listen to the elderly bowler-hatted gentleman waxing lyrical over his car does he do an un-selfish act (but is it duty or vanity, or a bit of both?).

On the other hand, it’s impossible not to like Ambrose; he’s debonair, witty, generous, and slightly vulnerable in a charming way. His main concern is to have a nice time and combine the Brighton run with an “emotional experience”. The wheels of the film are oiled (excuse the pun) by Kenneth More’s personality, facial expressions, comic laugh and dapper outfits. He’s a latter-day Mr Toad, an enthusiast, sporting leather gauntlets and a driving cap, in a yellow car, and if you don’t like it, then poop poop to you!

Ambrose, we discover, is not quite the ladies’ man he’d have people think he is, nor that Alan fears he has been. If anything, Ambrose is frustrated, not least by Wendy, and will be again by Rosalind, but Alan doesn’t know this, and lets his jealous mind run away with him. Ambrose is a good friend, he pays Alan compliments which he doesn’t listen to, while stoking his jealousy, which he thoroughly deserves. If Alan knew how to listen, he’d see that if anything it’s Ambrose who has reason to be jealous. It’s difficult to imagine that chalk-and-cheese characters like Ambrose and Alan would ever get on. There are echoes of their antagonistic personalities in the relationship between Charlie and Alan Harper in the American sitcom Two and a Half Men.

On the return journey, the friendly rivalry becomes not so friendly, as they inflict an escalating string of dirty tricks on one another and almost come to blows. Fate steers Ambrose away from victory, literally, when his wheel gets stuck in a tram line. Even so, it’d be fair to call it a dead heat in the end.

Subtly, the whole story is presented from Wendy’s point of view. She has to deal with her “moody and long-suffering” husband, while Ambrose is her friend. She’s the one left on her own when Alan storms out in a fit of jealousy to work through the night on Genevieve. She makes me think of a line by Robert Graves: “Why have such scores of lovely, gifted girls married impossible men?”

Rosalind’s rendition of “Sweet Genevieve” on the trumpet is a stand-alone piece in the film. Of course, the song Sweet Genevieve was written a hundred years earlier by George Cooper, about his young wife who died shortly after they were married, and was later set to music by Henry Tucker. This takes on a special poignancy in the film as Kay Kendall would die tragically of leukaemia aged just 32.

It’s easy to look for marks of naivety in old films, but I find they often deal with grown-up themes in more grown-up ways than the well-finished but infantilising nonsense I see produced today.

Above all, this film is a comedy, a bit of a caper. The cameo appearance by Joyce Grenfell as the hotel receptionist is colourful and funny. And let’s not forget Rosalind’s ever patient dog Susie, who puts up with it all stoically. Even the policeman played by Geoffrey Keen is likeable, he’s more exasperated schoolmaster than agent of the state.

After war and austerity, the film presents a cheerful world of bright colours and general light-heartedness. Some things were still rationed in 1953, and ravioli and olives must have sounded sophisticated and exotic!

The photography is a pleasure. Although it seems in some ways a hotchpotch of scenes, those scenes are good, quite painterly in some cases, especially the early scenes at the McKims’ home in Rutland Mews and around Ambrose and Rosalind’s picnic. The camera picks up all sorts of details of the modern world: sign posts put back since the war, electricity pylons, advertising, roadworks, well-surfaced empty roads…

The roads, ah the roads! – how tidy and uncluttered they are, hardly any road markings, few street signs, few bollards and islands, paradise compared to the bewildering forests of instructions, warnings and threats on today’s roads. And how little traffic there was! What fun to be free to drive along an open country road without having to worry about the inevitable Audi up the derrière! The scenes on the road make me want to tell the modern world to just go away. I know they say nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, but this is wonderful.

The Pre-Raphaelites
The Pre-Raphaelites
by Christopher Wood
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Victorian escapism in wonderful detail and colour, 24 Feb. 2016
This review is from: The Pre-Raphaelites (Paperback)
I used to like the Pre-Raphaelites, then I all but forgot about them, and reading this splendid book has rekindled my interest. The text isn’t over-long, and is lucid and balanced, without a hint of the pretentiousness or obliqueness that art historical writing can encourage. The illustrations are lovely and, it seems to me, well chosen. It tells the story chronologically, beginning with the founders of the Brotherhood: Holman Hunt, Rossetti, Millais, and their reasons and purpose, it moves through later phases, covering the work of, inter alia, Madox Brown, Burne-Jones, Hughes, Dyce, Waterhouse, and ending with the later years, into the twentieth century, by which time 'Pre-Raphaelite' could cover a broad spectrum, including late Romantics, classicists, symbolists, aesthetes, sentimentalists, and more popular – I’d like to call them melodramatists – like Dicksee, and even those like Cowper who have a hint of art nouveau modernism in their work. (The author betrays a particular admiration for Burne-Jones, I don’t share this, as his figures are a bit too deathly for my liking.) What comes across throughout the book is the earnestness and the sincerity of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. They may have sought to portray the modern world, and shocked the academicians and critics for doing so, and they may have addressed contemporary social themes, but their work is in a world of its own. So much of the work seems like pure escapism. It must have been a reaction to the pace of change in Victorian Britain, and the pressures and uncertainties that brought; the past can be very comforting, and a safe place to deal with the present. Therein lies one of the contradictions of the Pre-Raphaelites and one of the qualities that makes them so interesting – they were both revolutionary and reactionary at the same time. I love looking over the paintings, the attention to detail is remarkable, the realism fascinating, and the manipulation of perspective to create a false archaic naivety is very clever; they put some of those Impressionist daubs to shame! The women seem both real and ideal, the heroines and their attendant knights-at-arms are certainly ideal, and even the femmes fatales don’t look as if they mean any harm, they just can’t help it. From beginning to end, the whole movement was all so very English.

Mr. Midshipman Easy
Mr. Midshipman Easy
by Frederick Marryat
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Candide joins the navy, 30 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Mr. Midshipman Easy (Paperback)
Having only previously read Marryat’s ‘Children of the New Forest’, I didn't know this was a comic novel. It's like Voltaire’s Candide, with some Robinson Crusoe, perhaps a smidgen of Tom Jones and even a little bit of Humphrey Clinker thrown in. The story begins just before Jack Easy’s birth. His is an amateur philosopher, who, like Voltaire’s enlightened idiot Pangloss with his theory of Optimism, has an idealistic and dogmatic and slightly ridiculous view of equality and the rights of man. To put this theory to the test, Jack joins the navy (an unlikely way to go about it, you may well think). After early comical misunderstandings, he travels the seas and meets a range of characters and finds himself in all sorts of situations, with his very own Man Friday in the form of Mesty. Jack's father's philosophy is not so much put to the test as gradually becoming irrelevant, until he meets his father again towards the end, during which their discussion struck me as not really leading to any conclusion. Anyway, just as Candide marries Cunégonde in the end, to live happily ever after in the best of all possible worlds, or as close to it as anyone’s going to get in this world, so Jack Easy and his Sicilian bride Agnes marry and live happily ever after. An amusing read in parts, but dated in two ways: the ideas really belong to the century before, and yet the style is old fashioned for the centuries to follow.

R J Mitchell: Schooldays To Spitfire
R J Mitchell: Schooldays To Spitfire
by Gordon Mitchell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Informative on several fronts, 10 Jan. 2016
Informative account of Mitchell's life written by his son. There's a lot in this, biographical, general historical context and engineering and technical stuff. Although it's not a book about the Spitfire as such, the place of the Spitfire in aviation is brought to the fore. It clarified some aspects of the Battle of Britain for me that I've found confusing in other books. The chapter on Mitchell's early death is very sad. Gordon's assessment of his father, warts and all, is interesting and moving. I have to add that Gordon Mitchell comes across as a thoroughly likeable chap.

The River War
The River War
by Winston Churchill
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Some of Churchill's best prose, and a healthy respect for the enemy, 6 Dec. 2015
This review is from: The River War (Paperback)
A region descending into barbarism, a makeshift army inspired by religious fanaticism, straight from the middle ages, fed by poverty and resentment, shifting across vast ungoverned tracts of sand with no respect for national borders or law, regional powers exerting malign and oppressive influence, colonial powers misunderstanding and exacerbating the situation, the British government dithering, the British public ambivalent about the war and doubting the army's effectiveness in the field, the French causing complications... change the names and you could be in the early twenty-first century, not the late nineteenth. It seems like déjà vu. Of course, the situation is not the same, the world is more complicated now, we can't just send a gunboat to solve the problem. But there are lessons to be learned. Churchill's assessments of the people and events are honest, revealing and compassionate, his horror at the civilian casualties and the butchery of battle are direct and respectful by today's standards. I think that's where the strength of the narrative comes from - respect. For all the prejudices of the age, Churchill shows a healthy respect for the enemy, as well as for his own side. Nowadays, political correctness is so concerned with not offending anyone and with the deification of the victim that it ends up showing respect for no one. For a good read, although long, this book contains some of Churchill's best prose, the battle scenes are vivid and detailed and the descriptions of the desert landscape are powerful, seen through Churchill's painter's eye.

Dare To Be Free
Dare To Be Free
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Lion-hearted soldier, 22 Nov. 2015
This review is from: Dare To Be Free (Kindle Edition)
The blurb on the back of my copy describes Thomas as "lion-hearted". That he certainly was. This is a gripping wartime escape story, through the country and the mountains of occupied Greece, all the time carrying a terrible injury. It's vivid and full of life and truthfulness. There are good Germans and bad Germans. The Greek peasants, some friendly, some less so, are full of character. The monks of the monasteries on the Athos Peninsula, some friendly, some less so, are described in all their archaic eccentricity. The first escape attempt by sea is terrifying. The final escape is beautiful. The ending is moving. Essential reading for anyone interested in first-hand adventure stories and anything to do with the war.

Great Battles: Agincourt
Great Battles: Agincourt
by Christopher Hibbert
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction, 19 Oct. 2015
Good introduction to the battle, some analysis at the end. I thought the account jumped forward now and then, which was distracting, but it's meant to be brief. I went to see Henry V at the RSC Stratford last week - what with the 600th anniversary of Agincourt coming up - and was reminded how Shakespeare seems to keep pretty close to the facts in this case, not something which troubles him too much in some of the other plays.

Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses
Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses
by David Lodge
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A curate's egg, 17 Oct. 2015
Tidily written, the terms of the story are clearly set up and it's funny in parts. But I found myself getting bored. The process of writing a novel is too near the surface. It's like seeing the stage hands move the scenery in a play. The characters are university lecturers, who are generally dull, petty and egocentric; there's only so much humour can be squeezed out of them. The malign, sneering attitude of university lecturers runs through the book. All that self-deprecating piety is really just inverted - and perverted - vanity. The arrogance is laid bare at the beginning, when the academics show only suspicion and contempt for the engineers who designed the aeroplanes in which they are flying. Yet they are still willing to fly in a plane designed by an engineer. Would an engineer fly in a plane designed by an English lecturer? And as for the English lecturer’s homework – who cares?

Operation Pacific [DVD] [1951]
Operation Pacific [DVD] [1951]
Dvd ~ John Wayne
Offered by TwoRedSevens
Price: £6.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Too much romance, not enough action, 19 Sept. 2015
Good film, I enjoyed it, John Wayne is great in the part of Lt. Cmdr. Gifford. Some of the sequences on board the submarine are funny and atmospheric, there are some great lines, and the moment they spot the Japanese Imperial Fleet through the periscope is dramatic. My problem is that the action sequences are too short, so much so that they don't quite make sense. On the other hand, the romantic subplot about Gifford's relationship with his ex-wife is too long and seems to determine the main plot about the submarine and its dud torpedoes. I'd have liked more action and more explanation of the technical stuff (I'm like that) - I don't just want to know that the torpedoes didn't work and that they solved the problem, I want to know why they didn't work and how they solved the problem.

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