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Roger Risborough (Richmond)

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Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
by Henry Marsh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's Not Rocket Science . . ., 16 Jan. 2016
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Oh dear, I have to be really careful here, because people giving even slightly negative reviews to this on Amazon tend to get a good kicking. It was seeing all the 5 star reviews that made me want to read this, raised my expectations sky-high, and ultimately led to my disappointment. Opinion seems to be divided as to whether Henry Marsh is a searingly honest, self-critical commentator on a much-cherished national institution (the NHS) that is now in the grip of political/bureaucratic idiocy, or whether he is a vain-glorious, pompously arrogant, shameless self-promoter. I'm afraid I ended up in the latter camp; even when he promotes his own alleged altruism (philanthropic works in Eastern Europe) there is a queasy disquiet when you realise that a British documentary team is covering every move. Aside from the issue of personality, this is a chilling insight into the still medieval practice of neuro-surgery (in all countries - not just the Ukraine). Technological advances mean that minutely intricate operations deep inside people's brains are possible, but their success is still completely reliant on who is on the end of the saws/scalpels/suckers that are still the stock tools of the trade for even the most proficient of practitioners. And as Henry Marsh makes clear, not all the practitioners ARE as proficient as you might hope - some are complete beginners, more than capable of snipping the wrong nerve, with disastrous consequences. And even the top ones (Marsh is the only one in that category revealed by this book) can have lapses of concentration or competence, which will again leave patients paralysed or dead. Overall, though, my main criticism is that structurally, this is incredibly repetitive - there are 25 almost identical chapters, each ostensibly sitting under a different (and largely unpronounceable) neurological condition, some with vague musings on other aspects of the author's life, but generally all are tales of someone's utter misery, and for me, that made it an almost unbearable read.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 21, 2016 11:50 AM GMT


Rock Stars Stole my Life!: A Big Bad Love Affair with Music
Rock Stars Stole my Life!: A Big Bad Love Affair with Music
by Mark Ellen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Happy Talk, 9 Jan. 2016
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This reminded me of Andrew Collins' "Where Did It All Go Right?" - a cheery memoir from the world of popular culture where the default attitude is generally cultivatedly-cool cynicism. Mark Ellen (like Collins) is hugely self-deprecating, never quite believing he is actually part of the circus that he ends up being a ring-master of. In his 1980s incarnation, Ellen was a chubby-cheeked, cheeky-grinning ringer for Paul McCartney, and he carries Macca's glass-more-than-half-full attitude to his life story as opposed to the empty glasses of Lennon and Ellen's early NME colleagues (Birchill, Parsons, Morley et al). So in the field of pop/rock auto-biogs this is a refreshing change to the mainstream, although being thought too mainstream is exactly what our author had to battle against as he rose through the publishing ranks via the success he made of Smash Hits and the Emap titles that followed. He admits to taking drugs once, and suffering numerous impossible-to-avoid-rock-journalist-hang-overs, but in terms of his own rock-and-roll lifestyle, that's it - he seems to have a happy and long-standing marriage (despite his wife's weakness for Dylan's dourer outpourings) and instead, is able to stand back and shine a light on the clay feet of the false idols of the music world (including those he's idolised himself since being a boy). This is a wonderful whistle-stop tour through the changing face of music, broadcasting and publishing from the mid 60s to almost now, with tour highlights including reviewing Jefferson Airplane without having been at the gig, presenting Live Aid (or part of it), emerging as Michael Jackson's spokesperson-in-death, getting to see the real Roy Harper, and being one-on-one with Lady Gaga. Mixed in with the anecdotes though, there are some lovely musings on the music world and the rock star's impossible lot, and why we create idealised versions of them that they can never actually live up to. This book, however, more than lived up to my own expectations, but I will take the author's advice and try my hardest to avoid meeting him in person, in case he turns out not to be the wonderful person I now imagine that he is.


Number 11
Number 11
by Jonathan Coe
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One And One Is Only Two I'm Afraid . . ., 29 Dec. 2015
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This review is from: Number 11 (Hardcover)
Jonathan Coe spins a web of mounting expectation across the five parts of this post-modern portmanteau/state-of-the-nation novel. You scrabble through the early stages of each part as its theme becomes clearer and references back to earlier parts of the tale emerge. And it is a fascinating, compelling set-up, weaving together the death of David Kelly, celebrity/reality TV, cultural mythology, science-fiction and basically the whole history of film! The web that joins all these things together though, is things not being exactly what they seem, or not being what we are told they are, or people just believing what they are told. So the pressure on the last part of the book, for the reader to suddenly see the whole woven story come together and discover what is trapped at the centre of the spider's web, is enormous, Sadly though, the spell of the book snaps in the final chapters, when the (monetized?) value of the story turns out to be no greater than the sum of its portmanteau parts.


Kid Gloves: A Voyage Round My Father
Kid Gloves: A Voyage Round My Father
by Adam Mars-Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

4.0 out of 5 stars One Track Mind, 22 Dec. 2015
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Part-way through this memoir, Adam Mars-Jones refers to the awkwardness of trying to listen to The Beatles' White Album during his early adolescence on the family's communal record player. Because the record was effectively one long track with each song running into the next, it was impossible for the author to judge when the lyrics that were guaranteed to offend his father were imminent, so despite loving the music, he could only listen to it in a state of impending doom. That is the effect that autocratic fathers have on sensitive sons, who are hung on tenterhooks, walk on eggshells, and have to wear kid gloves in all their dealings with "dad". Mars-Jones Junior duly pays homage to The Beatles by structuring his book in the same trackless (chapter-less) manner. This is not a chronological journey through episodic family history - instead it is a stream of joined fragmentary memories. So there is no structure, and no formal beginning/middle/end. The author rejects the notion of "closure", suggesting that things don't get neatly resolved or explained - instead family events get over-laid, inter-woven, re-written, mis-remembered, and ultimately, forgotten. And this book is Adam Mars-Jones' means of working through his complex relationship with his father, years after his death. The "Voyage Round My Father" sub-title, as well as being a tribute to M-J Senior's fellow luminary legal-eagle John Mortimer, is also a neat summation of the author's attempts to navigate his father's foibles and failings when alive, and then post-mortem, his attempts to review his father in the light of distance and different perspectives. So, having found his father generally "guilty" of most things when they lived together (well into the author's adult years), this is effectively Sir William Mars-Jones' appeal hearing. And the verdict this time is more sympathetic. My verdict (on the book) is that I really enjoyed the whole thing, and in fact the lack of chapters meant that I raced through it, caught up in the swirling stream of stories and issues. Recent events have told us that one generation's received values and acceptances, can be very quickly flipped-over by the next in line, and that is equally true in familes as it is in public life. Most fathers reading this will wriggle uncomfortably when realising how often well-intentioned (but often mis-conceived) parenting is regarded as dysfunctional (at best) by the recipient off-spring (and spouses). Reading this has made me reappraise my own family relationships, with both my parents and my children, whose verdicts I anxiously await . . .


Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love
Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love
by James Booth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lifeless, Artless, Unlovable . . . I was more deceived (by the author), 29 Nov. 2015
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The cover of James Booth's biography of Larkin suggests a light, sketchy approach to a well known subject who has already been extensively "biog'ed". The reality of this book, though, is ponderous and plodding. When I read Andrew Motion's Larkin book several years ago, I can remember weeping with grief when I finished the last page, such was the power of the author's writing and the subject's life-story. This time however, my only emotion on getting to the end was relief . . . there were few new revelations or angles, and Booth is a determined apologist for Larkin's less-admirable traits, even when his own evidence seems conclusively damning. Worse though, are Booth's attempts to analyse the poems themselves. I ended-up skipping these boring, boggy bits and instead re-read the poems themselves, and for me that has been the biggest benefit of reading this book - being motivated to re-read Larkin's own wonderful words, which speak for themselves.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 5, 2016 2:53 PM GMT


A God in Ruins: Costa Shortlisted 2015
A God in Ruins: Costa Shortlisted 2015
by Kate Atkinson
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Marriage In Ruins, 28 Oct. 2015
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For several years, my wife had been urging me to read some Kate Atkinson, and "A God In Ruins" was my eventual starting point. So rather like Teddy (the hero of AGIR), having "signed-up" I set about doing my duty in wading through 384 pages of chopped-up time, chronological switch-backs and forensically researched aspects of WW2 as the story shins backwards and forwards and up and down various branches of the Todd family tree between the 1930s and the Queen's Golden Jubilee. In the end though, it turns out that my wife HADN'T been urging me to read A God In Ruins at all, but insists she told me to read "Life After Life" BEFORE "A God In Ruins", and if I had done, I would have realised all along that we are all living in our own parallel universes where lives turn (or end) on the outcome of random events beyond our control. That's her version of events anyway, but it's not mine.


The Pie At Night: In Search of the North at Play
The Pie At Night: In Search of the North at Play
by Stuart Maconie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.74

4.0 out of 5 stars Northern Piety, 15 Oct. 2015
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Please forgive my review title - like Stuart Maconie (and I do) I just can't resist a pun, even when it's a very bad one and even when it doesn't really reflect the subject matter that follows. Let's face it, "The Pie At Night" is a terrible pun and a terrible title. And what follows, stretches the brief beyond night-time activities and beyond the north. In fact Maconie, starts out quite rustily like a man in need of a drink to get his writing arm going again after a break since the last book. That apparent thirst is quickly sorted though, and our intrepid author soon settles into his familiar stride, and if part of his intent is to eschew stereo-types about northerner leisure times revolving around too much beer and the wrong sort of foods, then he addresses this by having a pint every 3 or 4 pages generally followed by a whiskey chaser and pie, chips and peas (sometimes beans). So for all the talk of tapas in Halifax and striving for Michelin stars in Manchester, my gastronomic legacy from this book is thinking "I really must have a steak and kidney pudding at the next opportunity". And geographically, he strays as far south as Wolverhampton, claiming it to be effectively part of the north. Come on Stuart, in Pies And Prejudice you were quite specific that the north started at Crewe station, and we know you only went to the Black Country because there is no floodlit horse-racing in the true north (yet). Aside from these snipes, there is a lot to engage with here - especially for us exiled northerners who are hungry for what Maconie is best at - ie reminding us of what is great about the north. Other reviewers pan him for his socialist take on most topics - but whatever his shade of political redness, he would admit himself that he possesses a big pair of rose-tinted glasses, through which he examines the north at play, whether eating, drinking, listening, laughing, watching or walking. What makes this an enjoyable and easy read, is the author's infectious enthusiasm for all these subjects, even opera, which is not his favourite pastime unless you stick a "north" on the end and watch it in Leeds (Opera North). The single theme in all this, though, I think, is collectivism. What makes all these northern leisure activities so appealing to the observer (or reader) is that they all involve northern folk out together, en masse, having a great time despite whatever else may be going on in their lives, and that is what the north has always excelled at - whether on the factory floor or the football terrace or the demonstration march or at the holiday camp; big groups of like minded people making the best of where they find themselves, and having a good laugh while doing it. Often at their own expense.


David Mitchell: Back Story
David Mitchell: Back Story
by David Mitchell
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £18.94

5.0 out of 5 stars Walking Back To Happiness, 20 Aug. 2015
Someone bought me this for Christmas as a hard-back when it first came out but I never got round to opening it. Then a service-station-stop on a long car journey prompted me to buy the audiobook version and it was brilliant. Towards the end of his absorbing tale, David Mitchell mentions being referred to as the new Stephen Fry . . . well, that conclusion is inescapable after listening to this. Mitchell may not have prison and battles with his own psychology/sexuality in his back story, but he has enough self-doubt, social anxiety and neuroses to make this a fascinating journey from misfit teenager, to Oxford reject, to Footlights limelight, to faltering early career, and finally to success. Bits of it are laugh-out-loud funny (my favourites being about Captain Hastings and pontoon argot), and the over-arching structure (walking through London from KIlburn towards the BBC) works very well. This journey allows the author to ramble on about various topics loosely connected to either his route or his career (from Flat Roofed Pubs to The Love of His Life) finishing with a eulogy to the BBC itself. A heartfelt finish to a very enjoyable book.


Engel's England: Thirty-nine counties, one capital and one man
Engel's England: Thirty-nine counties, one capital and one man
by Matthew Engel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Losing Count(ies), 7 Aug. 2015
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I keep reading Matthew Engel's books and I keep wanting to love them, but with Engel's England, I've failed again I'm afraid (or he has). The trouble is, he sets himself a huge task with the whole concept of the book, because any publisher knows that this foot-slogging, mind-numbing structure where the author ticks his way through forty or so near-identical chapters is an almost impossible trick to pull off. Perhaps one of the other reviewers is right in saying that this is a book to dip into and out of over a long period of time (perhaps during your own travels round England) but it's a tough ask reading this as a continuous piece - in fact I really struggled to read more than one chapter at a time. The starting premise is that each of England's 39 (or is it 40?) counties has a clearly defined personality and is distinct from all the others, so what on earth have the government/post office/others been thinking in trying to change the county boundaries/names/existences at various points in recent-ish history? Unfortunately, the ensuing 40 chapters seem to disprove his own theory because for every truly distinctive county (ie the ones where Engel can happily apply tired sterotypes, like Lancashire, Yorkshire, Essex, etc) there are all the truly minor counties (Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, etc) that we tend to pass through on motorways and main line railways without really noticing, and which in truth all just run into one another culturally and geographically. Perhaps Engel, a former cricket correspondent, could have focused on the 18 first class cricket counties, but then he'd have had to miss out Cornwall, Devon, Norfolk and Suffolk (you can imagine the editorial debate "oh god, you're just going to have to do all 39 of them, but PLEASE try to make them as different as possible"). So there is a real sense of deja vu . . . when I read the chapters on Cumbria and Cambridgeshire, I was absolutely convinced he'd already done these counties, forgotten, and written about them again, but it turns out I was mixing-up Cumbria with Westmoreland and Cambridgeshire with Huntingdonshire (or was it Rutland?). See what I mean? So the whole exercise is like that of a cricket captain with a very variable bowling attack - he somehow has to hide his pie-chuckers in amongst the wicket-takers . . . but in the end, Captain Engel just conceded too many runs for this to be a defendable title.


That's Entertainment: My Life in the Jam
That's Entertainment: My Life in the Jam
by Rick Buckler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.46

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Buckling Down, 10 Jun. 2015
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Rick Buckler reminds me of George Carter/Dennis Waterman from The Sweeney. First of all they look very similar (same barber?) but more than that, they were both the power-house components in famous 1970s partnerships that ultimately split-up, leaving Rick/Dennis adrift career-wise, whilst Paul Weller and John Thaw went on to supposedly better things. Anyone who knows anything about contemporary culture, knows that the magic of great music isn't just down to whose name is officially credited as the "song-writer" - it's all about the chemistry of the group - and everyone contributes something, whether it's a riff, a beat, the look, or the moves. Well Rick Buckler didn't write many (any?) Jam songs but boy did he contribute to the whole creative spirit of the group, and I can't think of any other band where I've been so aware of the drumming as part of the band's unique DNA. Reforming The Jam without Paul Weller (or Bruce Foxton) may be unthinkable, but so it would be if Rick Buckler wasn't involved. I've no idea why Paul Weller "never got on with Buckler" and I'm none the wiser after reading this book, but I've learnt a lot more about Rick's post-Jam attempts to stay afloat. It's s sobering tale, but he's a down to earth bloke who just buckles down, gets on with it, and tries to make the best of whatever situation he finds himself in. What else comes out of this is how desperate Weller was to prise himself away from the success they had created so that he could do it all over again and prove it was down to him rather than Foxton or Buckler. You can't take The Jam years away from Buckler and he deserves a bit of the spot-light again now with this book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 3, 2015 2:33 PM BST


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