Profile for Tinfoilhat > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Tinfoilhat
Top Reviewer Ranking: 187,485
Helpful Votes: 248

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Tinfoilhat (London)

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2
pixel
Blood Meridian
Blood Meridian
by Cormac McCarthy
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We are, each of us, granted two lives: that which existed before reading this, and that which exists afterwards, 1 Oct 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Blood Meridian (Paperback)
The most extraordinary feat of imagination and technical brilliance in fiction I have ever read: viscerally savage and atavistic, but also metaphysical, lyrical, beautifully observed and historiologically correct. A tour de force.


The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike)
The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike)
by Robert Galbraith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.95

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cuckoo's Calling, 19 Aug 2013
Great whodunnit, with instantly likeable and very plausible protaganist and sidekick.

The real strength of the book for me was the dialogue. Rowling nailed the cadences, the slang and the verbal tics of a broad panoply of characters: hardened cops, prim and unworldly Yorkshire lass, supermodel, gay fashion designer, druggie celeb, lawyers, spoiled society wives, and on and on. London encompasses many increasingly divergent argots, and here all are evinced with marvellous authenticity. Never once did the dialogue jar, or slip into stereotype. Not once did it read as exposition or feel contrived or forced.

The other pleasant revelation is that Rowling has a great sense of humour and is adept at fashioning both comedic scenes and hilarious dialogue. There is just enough levity, judiciously employed, to enliven the story without debasing its solemnity.

I was very sorry for Rowling that some twit let the cat out of the bag about her authorship. I found it rather a distraction at times to know the author's identity; I found myself reading the book while involuntarily marvelling at her versatility. I hope she is not deterred from giving us more of Cormoran and Robin.


WD My Book 3TB External Desktop Hard Drive (USB 3.0/2.0)
WD My Book 3TB External Desktop Hard Drive (USB 3.0/2.0)
Offered by No1 For Gadgets Gifts4all - (VAT REGISTERED)
Price: 139.99

8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't work, 15 May 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
UPDATE: THE DRIVE WORKS ONCE A DRIVE LETTER HAS BEEN ASSIGNED TO IT. IT STILL IMPEDES BOOTUP HOWEVER, UNLESS UNPLUGGED.

Plugged it in, connected to computer via the USB 2.0/3.0 cable provided and Windows 7 began installing drivers automatically and confirmed installation had been successful. So far so good. However when I then tried to find the new drive in Windows Explorer it wasn't there. "No problem" I thought, must need a restart. However the boot sequence hangs when you have the drive plugged in. I checked on the WD site and loads of other people had the same issue. Some people in the forums were suggesting that this is a boot sequence issue and you just need to disable "external drives" in the bootup sequence. However I have another 1TB WD My Book drive that has happily sat there for a couple of years and never affected bootup. When I pulled out the USB lead for the new drive the bootup resumed immediately. However the drive is still not recognised in Windows Explorer. The Windows 7 Devices and Printers Manager does seem to detect two WD external devices, one of which has a driver dating from January of this year (and which I therefore presume to be the new drive). However I cannot see the drive and no amount of USB port swapping - using ports via hub and straight off the chassis - has fixed the issue. The single white light glows solid and blinks a few times just after an unplug/replug. I can also feel it whirring away when I touch it. But it's invisible to Windows 7.

One thing to note: the WD backup software that supposedly invites you to install it on initial connection did not appear. This makes me think the drive may be corrupted or damaged as that WD software sits on the drive itself, not on a CD-ROM / DVD.

Anyone else had these issues?

Utterly infuriating.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 8, 2013 6:29 PM BST


A Bit Of What You Fancy/Bitter Sweet And Twisted
A Bit Of What You Fancy/Bitter Sweet And Twisted

5.0 out of 5 stars Why don't these guys rule the world?, 17 May 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The one of the best bands you never heard of. 'A bit of what you fancy' is stuffed with anthemic stadium rock classics and searing ballads that - as another reviewer put it - may just make you cry. Spike's rasping voice is full of power and tonality and expression, and is the perfect foil to the the exhilarating guitar licks and raucous, bar-room piano that are the hallmarks of this wonderful album. Underlying these virtuoso ingredients is a lush, pumping rhythm section full of fat bass and atmospheric drumming. Buy this.


Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story Of The Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny
Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story Of The Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny
by Mike Dash
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best and Worst of Humanity, 14 July 2003
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The loss of the Batavia would probably have warranted little more than a foot-note in the history of European trading expansion in the East Indies but for the events which subsequently unfolded in Houtman's Abrolhos. Because the Batavia's destruction precipitated amongst her survivors an explosion of hatred and bestiality that had been gestating in her foetid lower decks during the long, dreadful months of her outward passage. Indeed, the discord which ran amongst her officers and men like a fever was a causative factor in her destruction. This is a tale of depressing awfulness, though one tempered by redemptive examples of dignity and courage, leadership and charity. We can only wonder at the faith, courage and determination of the victim-survivors - men, women and children - who clung to life amidst the barbarism, atavistic depravity, howling despair, desolation and abyssal hopelessness that was their daily lot in the sun-bleached, wind-scoured Houtman's Abrolhos.
This marvellous book is a triumph on several levels. It is a great achievement of precise and orderly narrative history. Its clear, calm, unexcited prose never distracts from the intrinsically dramatic and shocking nature of the events. Such interpolation of events and dialogue as there is has been used only very sparingly, and for explanatory, rather than dramatic, effect. Speculations are clearly confessed, and supported by annotations explaining their justification. The book is also a triumph of meticulous historical research and scholarship. The author's achievement in sifting, weighing and parsing centuries-old, fragmentary sources of information, and assembling from these a coherent and logical exposition of the complex events of this affair and their antecedents, is singularly impressive. And yet the analysis, as forensically thorough and academically rigorous as it is, is never sterile or remote. By his frequent recourse - though not blind faithfulness - to the personal accounts and official records of what happened, the author conveys to the reader a powerful sense of communing with the long-dead protagonists themselves, as we hear, from their own lips, of their dreadful travails. The main text is augmented by an important and detailed set of notes, in which are to be found many further intriguing tit-bits of detail and information, which I confidently predict that most readers will greedily devour.
The book ends with an epilogue in which Dash briefly and efficiently relates the story of the re-discovery of the Batavia's wreck in the 1960s, and the recovery of material, artefacts and human remains which have also been discovered in the Abrolhos. It is here that perhaps the most poignant vignette of the entire tale is to be found: Imagine, if you can, being marooned on an island some one mile by three, on which no part rose more than six feet above the lapping waves, with a gang of rapists and murderers who were, in the end, killing out of sheer boredom. Imagine lying at night in your flimsy tent, straining with every fibre in your body to hear the tell-tale clink and scuffing of men gathering outside. Imagine, night after night, hearing them pass by, whispering and grunting, and moments later, the shrieks and frantic imprecations of men and women being dragged outside in their underclothes and set upon with flashing blades as they lay upon the barren ground. Imagine reaching out for the comforting touch of your mother, and finding that she too shook violently in silent terror as she lay beside you... One of the sets of remains recovered from the Abrolhos was that of a small child; when the child's skull was examined, it was observed that its teeth had been worn down to a quite exceptional degree. The cause of this accelerated wear was determined to be incessant grinding.


Batavia's Graveyard
Batavia's Graveyard
by Mike Dash
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blessed are the meek, 23 Jun 2003
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Batavia's Graveyard (Hardcover)
In 1629, the Batavia, a giant ocean-going Dutch trading galleon, smashed onto an uncharted reef fifty miles off the west coast of Australia. Over the next few days, the once-mighty vessel was remorselessly pounded to pieces in the surf. The bedraggled survivors, perched nearby on tiny coral outcroppings virtually devoid of life or shelter, food or water, could only watch in utter dismay. The Batavia was a retourschep (a “return ship” – the very largest, and most magnificent, class of trading vessel, one designed to withstand the rigours of the round-trip passage between the United Provinces and the Dutch East Indies); she was also on her maiden voyage, having been built at tremendous cost; what is more, she was laden with a fortune in silver, precious jewellery and trading goods. Her destruction, the loss of her cargo, and the consequent loss of profits from the Spices she would eventually have brought home to Europe represented a major financial blow to her owners – the Dutch East India Company (the “VOC”).
However, and dramatic though such an event undoubtedly was, such losses were not uncommon, and the Batavia's destruction might have warranted little more than a foot-note in the history of European trading expansion in the East Indies but for the events which subsequently unfolded in the desolate little chain of low, barren islands where she met her end - Houtman’s Abrolhos. For the Batavia’s destruction precipitated amongst her survivors an explosion of hatreds and resentment that had been gestating in her foetid lower decks during the long, dreadful months of her outward passage. Indeed, the discord and sullen mutual resentments which ran amongst her officers and men like a fever were themselves a causative factor in her destruction. Now, while they awaited rescue, the dwindling survivors were preyed upon and terrorised by the worst of these malcontents, a band of mutineers led by a vicious psychopath named Jeronimous Cornelisz. This is a tale of depressing awfulness, though not without redemptive examples of dignity and courage, leadership and charity. What is more, we can only wonder at the faith, fortitude and determination of the victim-survivors – men, women and children - who clung to life amidst the barbarism, atavistic depravity, howling despair, desolation and abyssal hopelessness that was their daily lot in the sun-bleached, wind-scoured Houtman’s Abrolhos.
This marvellous book is a triumph on several levels. It is a great achievement of precise and orderly narrative history. Its clear, calm, unexcited prose never distracts from the intrinsically dramatic and shocking nature of the events. Such interpolation of events and dialogue as there is has been used only very sparingly, and for explanatory, rather than dramatic, effect. Speculations are clearly confessed, and supported by annotations explaining their justification. The book is also a triumph of meticulous historical research and scholarship. The author’s achievement in sifting, weighing and parsing centuries-old, conflicting, fragmentary sources of information, and assembling from these a coherent and logical exposition of the complex events of this affair and their antecedents, is singularly impressive. And yet the analysis, as forensically thorough and academically rigorous as it is, is never sterile or remote. By his frequent recourse – though not blind faithfulness - to the personal accounts and official records of what happened, the author conveys to the reader a powerful sense of communing with the long-dead protagonists themselves, as we hear, from their own lips, of their dreadful travails. I must add that the main text is augmented by an important and detailed set of notes, in which are to be found many further intriguing tit-bits of detail and information, which I confidently predict that most readers will greedily devour.
The book ends with an epilogue in which Dash briefly and efficiently relates the story of the re-discovery of the Batavia’s wreck in the 1960s, and the recovery of material, artefacts and human remains which have also been discovered in the Abrolhos. It is here that perhaps the most poignant vignette of the entire tale is to be found: Imagine, if you can, being marooned on an island some one mile by three, on which no part rose more than six feet above the lapping waves, with a gang of rapists and murderers who were, in the end, killing out of sheer boredom. Imagine lying at night in your flimsy tent, straining with every fibre in your body to hear the tell-tale clink and scuffing of men gathering outside. Imagine, night after night, hearing them pass by, whispering and grunting, and moments later, the shrieks and frantic imprecations of men and women being dragged outside in their underclothes and set upon with flashing blades as they lay upon the barren ground. Imagine reaching out for the comforting touch of your mother, and finding that she too shook violently in silent terror as she lay beside you... One of the sets of remains recovered from the Abrolhos was that of a small child; when the child’s skull was examined, it was observed that its teeth had been worn down to a degree quite exceptional in a person of such tender age. The cause of this accelerated wear was determined to be incessant grinding, of the sort associated with extreme anxiety.


Angry White Pyjamas: An Oxford Poet Trains with the Tokyo Riot Police
Angry White Pyjamas: An Oxford Poet Trains with the Tokyo Riot Police
by Robert Twigger
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Only mad dogs and Englishmen (in the land of the Rising Sun), 27 Nov 2002
This is the account of Robert Twigger, an expatriate English teacher living in Tokyo who, with two friends, decided to enrol on a martial arts course run by one of the foremost Aikido Dojos (academies) in the world. Challenging as that might seem in itself, Twigger quickly goes one better when he learns of, and enrols on, the full-time, year-long specialist course run for officers of the city's elite Riot Police. A complete novice, if he passes the course he will graduate as a black belt, and a qualified martial arts instructor in the space of a year - which gives some measure of the intensity of the course. This seems analogous to sending the school rock climbing club up the north face of the Eiger, with the promise of life-long membership of the Alpine Club and an instructor's certificate for the survivors. But this is compelling stuff, and like those ghastly nature programmes in which a field mouse blunders around blindly over the loops and coils of a watchful Fer de Lance, you just can't look away even though you know it's going to be very grisly.
Twigger writes evocatively about the external, everyday aspects of life in Tokyo and in the Dojo, and he can describe abject pain with a facility that will have you grinding your teeth. But all this serves as only a backdrop to the real story of the book, which is his inner, emotional journey. He offers fascinating insights into the complex and sometimes very unsettling psychology of the relationship between the Senshusei (the name given to pupils on this fearsome course) and their instructors. Senshusei train unremittingly, day in - day out, and must obey the instructors immediately and unquestioningly. The instructors use alarming physical force in their demonstration of techniques, and serious injury is a dark and ever-present threat in the Dojo. Infractions of the rules are punished swiftly with excruciating exercises and remorseless stints of kneeling for the lucky ones. The less lucky are more likely to be injured deliberately in the next demonstration.
Twigger's relationships with the various instructors therefore become of central importance to his quality of life, and he becomes finely attuned to every nuance of their behaviour, comments and demeanour. Inevitably, he finds himself flung around as much emotionally as physically by these titans of his new world. You must understand - this isn't running ten more laps with the medicine ball for talking back to the football coach, this is more like a broken arm and smashed nose for being late for practice.
What I found so baffling is that a man as manifestly intelligent as Twigger (a poetry prize-winning graduate of Oxford University) could so completely place himself and his safety in the hands of these instructors and some of the Walter Mitty types with whom he was forced to spar. The instructors are not the zen-like, almost saintly ascetics of martial arts lore and Hollywood legend. There are no harsh-but-fair wizened old men here. They are instead on the whole an unpleasant bunch with some rather serious character flaws here and there. Some are brutal, arrogant nihilists, autocratic even when the situation does not require it. Some have filthy tempers. Some of the Japanese ones are overtly racist and contemptuous of westerners (which isn't a good start, as you might appreciate). These guys smoke and get drunk (not while training - but still, shouldn't they be home, balanced between two chairs, meditating?). They are also surprisingly emotionally immature in some places. In short, these are not men one would be inclined to trust with one's long-term health. Reading as Twigger and the other Senshusei are rounded on by these incomplete but lethal individuals is like watching a small infant playing with a loaded pistol: you have the same sensation of tragedy rushing to embrace the participants. You just know something awful is going to happen to someone. And then it does. But I won't ruin the book.
As a lighter, but no less compelling sub-text, Twigger writes very amusingly about his two flatmates and his various romantic dalliances and peculiar work-mates (he works one day a week teaching English to pay the rent and the course fees). His two flat-mates are Fat Frank and Chris. Fat Frank, a one hundred kilo Iranian on the lam from the immigration authorities, keeps his Whiskey bottle in the fish tank for want of storage space, and restlessly paces the streets rescuing consumer electronics from peoples' rubbish. Chris is intellectually brilliant and a mentor to the other two, dispensing wisdom and caution, arbitrating in all matters relating to the maintenance of good order in their tiny flat and putting food on the table. He also does modelling work through an agency that specialises in finding odd looking people. Twigger has two splendid friends and if I have any criticism of this book (though it's not a criticism as such, more a regret) it is that Fat Frank and Chris are not featured more. You will ROAR with laughter when Fat Frank unveils his Iranian mountain climbing technique and you will shudder with delicious dread at the mental game he and Twigger play to amuse themselves. It's absolutely toe-curlingly exquisite - I'm smiling now as I type this.
The Senshusei course is extremely arduous both physically and mentally, and the pressure on Twigger's body and mind mounts inexorably. You will find yourself wondering when the inevitable collapse in one or the other will come. Throughout, you suspect it may all end with a carefully crafted cop-out, the small-but-significant injury that forced the brave author to withdraw much to his chagrin and only weeks before the end. But it never comes. I won't ruin the end for you, but pass or fail, Twigger is still standing at the final bell. Put this one in your shopping basket and proceed to the checkout immediately.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 5, 2011 2:36 PM BST


Barrister's World: And the Nature of Law
Barrister's World: And the Nature of Law
by John Morison
Edition: Paperback

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Useful Primer, 10 Jun 2002
The authors (both legal academics at Queen's Uni, Belfast) have produced here a very useful introduction to the realities of life at the Bar. The various jurisdictions of the UK all receive a degree of examination and comparison, but a study of life in the system of England & Wales constitutes the core.
The authors conducted interviews with many Barristers and some Solicitors, both junior and senior. The wealth of anecdotal evidence gleaned from those interviews is judiciously deployed and provides much that is useful and interesting. However the authors' strong academic knowledge of legal process, rather than the anecdotes, is what really powers the narrative. The effect therefore is never journalistic, sensationalist or puerile, but rather is of a penetrating and well ordered survey dressed with relevant and pointed vignettes which also convey human interest and occasional humour.
An important section of the book explores the problematical and complicated relationship between Solicitors and Barristers. In what makes for sobering and revelatory stuff, the Solicitor is here accused of being intellectually lazy, increasingly unconfident in his own legal advice and unconcerned about abusing old conventions in the relationship; laxity is becoming the norm, and flaccid, unfocused requests for Advice ("Counsel is requested to advise on points X, Y and Z and also to ADVISE GENERALLY ON ANY OTHER POINTS OF LAW HE DEEMS PERTINENT") are the bane of the young Barrister's life.
Yet so long as Solicitors continue to select counsel largely at their sole discretion, without direction from the client, Barristers shall remain beholden to them and suffer their ways. However, some groups of clients possess extraordinary power by virtue of the volume of legal services they buy annually, and not only become expert in the workings of the legal profession but also take a greater hand in the conduct of their cases: insurance companies (the biggest buyers of litigation services by a country mile) compile lists of "approved advocates". Barristers struggle for admission to that exalted club, and counsel who represent "the families of the victims" against these leviathans are usually consigned to a career on that side of the tracks thereafter. Similarly, it appears that criminal practitioners do not tend to drift effortlessly between prosecution and defence briefs at their will, as this reviewer had thought: the Crown rewards loyalty and views with some circumspection the defence specialist who would be poacher turned game-keeper.
Solicitors have long railed against what they allege is the Bar's monopoly on rights of audience before the higher courts. It is interesting then, that although solicitors may now obtain professional qualifications enabling them to appear in the higher courts, only a minuscule percentage of them have taken the trouble to do the exams and seek that kind of work. The truth, it would appear, is that Solicitors and Barristers may practice the same law, but they develop expertise and skills in very different aspects of it. For all but the exceptional, there simply isn't enough time in a typical span of years to achieve mastery in both branches.
The once symbiotic and complementary roles of Barrister and Solicitor are being confused and deconstructed by all these intrinsic and extrinsic forces, and the relationship is degenerating into a circular power dynamic that is deleterious to the overall efficacy of the profession. The Barrister, hopelessly outnumbered and essentially in thrall to the patronage of the Solicitor, must be at greater risk.
All in all, it is a slightly depressing picture. I would have awarded five stars but for the facts that: the text is now twelve years old and in need of a tiny amount of revisitation here and there; and there was not nearly enough about the much-vaunted social aspects - the culture if you will - of life at the Bar, particularly in London, where the richness and uniqueness of life in and around the Inns must be one of precious few compensations for the financial uncertainties, inevitable poverty of the early years and long, unsociable hours which otherwise characterise the life of a Barrister.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 27, 2007 11:25 AM GMT


Arabian Nightmare
Arabian Nightmare
by Robert Irwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tour de Force, 1 May 2002
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Arabian Nightmare (Paperback)
A book set in the Cairo of hundreds of years ago. The tale of a young English Pilgrim whose caravan travels through Cairo on the way to Jerusalem. Immediately he arrives in the city he is assailed by a form of insomnia which seems to give way to periods of narcoleptic unconsciousness in which his nightmares assume a vivid and tangible reality. These become progressively more disorientating, engulfing and traumatic - and whatever the condition causing them, it is clearly worsening. He has the Arabian Nightmare - a condition which gradually drives a man from his mind and inverts his real and imagined selves. As it becomes increasingly difficult for him to distinguish dream from waking state, the events unfolding in each start to impact and influence those in the other. For the reader, the confusion experienced by the protagonist is masterfully conveyed by the fact that the story is told by several different narrators in turn.
Despite all this, the book is not tiresome in the way that so many 'clever clever' books are ("Sound and the Fury" anyone? "Ulysses"?). Here you will be borne along by a pantheon of rich and varied characters: sinister arab mages, assassins, talking monkeys, David Lynch-esque dwarves, beautiful but deadly prostitutes, a dissipated mogul and his bored, prosmiscuous daughters; and many more.
Also, the settings are vivid and pungent and fascinating. Many are in the heads of the characters. The description of the caravanserai and the surrounding precincts of old Cairo, with their stench, over-crowding, disease and darkness, is claustrophobic and menacing. Yet, it is preferable to remain within their sweaty labrynthine warrens than to stray into the hinterland surrounding the great city, where this world and some other seem to merge...
Robert Irwin possesses - it seems to me - that rarest combination of qualities: a powerful intellect AND a gift for vivid and original storytelling which engages the reader viscerally. His works deserve far greater recognition than I think they have. He is certainly to be preferred to those "Pseuds' Corner" staples Salman Rushdie and Umberto Eco. With Irwin you will find Eco's intellectual muscle in full measure, but also a tremendous capacity for weaving a compelling and enthralling story. Read this.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 24, 2012 5:48 PM GMT


The Operators: Inside 14 Intelligence Company - The Army's Top Secret Elite
The Operators: Inside 14 Intelligence Company - The Army's Top Secret Elite
by James Rennie
Edition: Paperback

91 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Last time I'll wave a fist at dangerous drivers!, 26 April 2002
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is an account of life with 14 Intelligence Company - a British military intelligence unit established in 1972 to conduct covert surveillance operations against terrorist organisations (of all stripes) in Northern Ireland. The unit is also known colloquially as '14 Int', and the 'Det' (because it is organised into 'Detachments'). The events related in the book occurred in the 1980s, but the unit is reportedly still in existence.
I first learned of 14 Int in Mark Urban's excellent "Big Boys' Rules". But Urban's book - about the role of special forces and the intelligence services in N.I. - is concerned with a wider thesis and 14 Int is only a part of its story. Peter Taylour's "Brits" contains rather more on 14 Int, including interviews with a couple of ex-Det members, but at times it veers perilously close to the rocks of sensationalism. However, both those books deal with 14 Int from an external perspective, whereas James Rennie tells the story from within this little known unit. He covers selection, training and actual operations.
The selection and training phases absorb well over half the book but that is no criticism: these sections are a gripping read. Such heavy emphasis on the training is quite unusual in this genre, and the effect is to impart a sense of the enormous, nay exhaustive, care and preparation that go into selecting and producing 'Operators'.
Selection standards for entry into the unit are extremely rigourous, both physically and mentally. The work of 14 Int is much more cerebral than that of other special forces groupings. Accordingly selection fortnight intersperses punishing tests of physical endurance with fiendish mental tests of memory, observation, concentration, planning, effective communication and so on (and on and on). Uniquely amongst British special forces, 14 Int contains women. The standards expected of them in selection and afterwards are exactly the same as those for the men. However far from being the granite-jawed East German shot-putter types you might have expected, they sound rather charming and feminine. Rennie's descriptions of these formidable individuals make very interesting reading. They are clearly worthy successors to the heroines of the SOE.
Those who successfully pass the selection move on to six months of gruelling training. Much training is conducted right here in the familiar and comfortable surroundings of dear old Blighty - on our public roads, and in our very own sleepy little towns and bustling cities. It must have been rather odd for the author and his fellow trainees to be conducting their cloak and dagger lessons amidst a populace in which friends and loved ones moved. To be forced to peer behind the veil of familiar and cherished perceptions of life in England would to me have felt like a violation and left me wondering what else there was. This is not the same as fighting (or preparing for) a war in some far and alien place. Homesick and frightened soldiers dream dreams of home. What, I wondered, do 14 Int members dream of?
Seeking out the psychological subtext is very important to an appreciation of what Rennie experienced, of what it is like to serve in this kind of unit. Isolation and loneliness seem to be strong abiding themes of Rennie's recollections of life in the Det. What is intriguing is whether he recognised that himself as he was writing this. The telling phrases and passages are littered throughout: having just passed through the hell of selection he suffers a personal rejection; his previous two years of service in Germany leave him bereft of functioning friendships in the UK; he resorts to placing ads in the lonely hearts columns to find a companion (he strikes gold here, meeting his wife to-be, but that isn't the point); much later, undergoing severe interrogation, he comforts himself with thoughts of what his beloved might be doing at that very moment; within the unit itself, Operators are forbidden to share the details of their lives with each other, and false names are used; Operators are housed in individual portakabins to which they return at all hours to slump in exhaustion on the bed for a few hours before heading out again...It all adds up to a picture of emotional isolation. Loneliness was, I think, a strong contributary factor in his decision to resign his commission and return to civilian life.
On the whole, the impression gained is of a pretty wonderful group - switched on, disciplined and resourceful, but also friendly, egalitarian and relaxed. Rennie himself seems a thoroughly decent type too, and he is balanced and mature in his comments about 'the opposition' and about his colleagues.
I gave the book five stars because, although I am hardly in a position to know whether it is an accurate account of life in the 'Det', I certainly found it an enthralling read.
...this is a really engaging read. From now on, if I am ever passed up by a car full of serious-looking people driving like absolute lunatics I will think twice before waving a fist at them at the next set of lights!!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 18, 2014 12:39 PM GMT


Page: 1 | 2