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Roger Risborough (Richmond)

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David Mitchell: Back Story
David Mitchell: Back Story
by David Mitchell
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £16.58

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

1 of 1 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: £10.47

13 of 14 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.


For Fukui's Sake: Two years in rural Japan
For Fukui's Sake: Two years in rural Japan
by Sam Baldwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Receptive And Respectful Visitor, 25 May 2015
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I really enjoyed reading this as a companion to my own travels round Japan. Sam Baldwin, as a newly arrived English teacher in out-of-the-way Japan, is a receptive and respectful visitor, trying to unravel the various cryptic aspects of Japanese life and society. His two years in Fukui, allow him to write individual essays on different aspects of life - ranging from rock concerts to rock climbing, and from Tokyo city breaks to paddling an inflatable canoe on a deserted lake. By the end, the author is reduced to tears by the prospect of his time in Japan being over, and I was also sorry to finish the last page.


Away From the Numbers: to be someone in the 1980's
Away From the Numbers: to be someone in the 1980's
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Mange Tout, Tony, Mange Tout, 24 May 2015
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Tony Beesley sets out to write a memoir about his formative years of life and music in Rawmarsh, Rotherham, during the 1980s, influenced by his two big role models, Paul Weller (for his ducking-and-diving street nous) and Derek Trotter (for his song-writing skills and social conscience). The Only Fools And Horses theme runs deeper, because the Kindle edition of this at least, looks like it's been proof-read/formatted by Trigger (you self-publishers!). Look, I don't want to go all Boycie on Tony by sneering at the Beesley/Trotters, but the author's writing style does borrow heavily from Del Boy's rather free-form use of the English language and its various colloquialisms. But like DB, you can't fault TB for his boundless enthusiasm and optimism in his quest to get to the top. "This time next year, our John, we'll be pop stars". "What's that? You're kicking me out of my own band?". "OK, this time next year, our Gary, I'll be a solo singer-song-writer, in whatever style was in about two years ago, be it Punk, Mod, Ska, New Romantic, Soul-Boy-Casual, or, er, Mod again (unless it involves me getting out of bed in the morning or staying out of the pub)". Bits of this are hilarious, particularly when Tony strays into politics ("I'm staunchly anti-racist but I do a great line in national stereo-type gags"), relationships, or in fact anything other than music, because the boy Beesley has got great taste in tunes, and my time in Sheffield over-lapped with much of this book, so I can remember being at some of the exact gigs that Tony went to (Undertones, Skids, Clash - I wonder if it was my pint that Tony nicked that night at Top Rank?).
What Tony really wants is to be is the centre of attention, but because his own attention span is shorter that the Rawmarsh Conservative Club members list, he really struggles to stick with anything long enough to be a success (assuming he has the raw materials to BE a success?). Anyway, writing is Tony's new medium for being the centre of attention, and what he has produced here is a compelling account of a great age of gigs and music, but more importantly a fascinating social history of an area and and an era where things have already changed forever.
I know in giving this 5 stars, I'm putting it on a pedestal with "War And Peace" and "To Kill A Mockingbird", but maybe "this time next year, our Rodney, we'll be at them Booker T and the MGs awards". Why not? I really enjoyed it.


The Story of the Beatles' Last Song (Kindle Single)
The Story of the Beatles' Last Song (Kindle Single)
Price: £2.32

2.0 out of 5 stars Venus or Mars?, 24 May 2015
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This is a very thin book (especially after you take out all the bibliography/index stuff) based on a thin idea to squeeze out another supposedly academic work about The Beatles that hasn't been done before. That's quite a tough brief (the "not having-been-done-before" bit) and in fact many others have written about this song but in other larger, works. Does this song deserve a book all of its own? Probably not, but if it does, it deserves a far better writer than James Woodall, whose trying-too-hard-to be-a-good-writer style is unreadable for long periods (particularly in the early stages when he really was trying much too hard to squeeze the words out). Woodall purports to be a big Beatles' fan, but how can someone have missed The Beatles for most of the 60s and only heard about them "at boarding school" when the time of the band was all but over? What planet was he living on? And which one is he on now?


Romany and Tom: A Memoir
Romany and Tom: A Memoir
by Ben Watt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Life's Wobbly See-Saw, 3 May 2015
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There is no doubt that this book got published because of Ben Watt's profile as a musician, but thank goodness he was able to use that lever to bring his story to the rest of us. This is a real "everyman" tale, of parents, childhood, family, and that precarious phase when you are poised at the fulcrum of life's wobbly see-saw, with declining parents teetering at one end and young children bouncing up and down at the other end. Ben attempts to piece together "Romany and Tom's" back-story at a time when he is shuttling between care homes, hospitals and their general descent down the property ladder, trying to make his parents' lives as bearable as possible. Everything is laid bare in the process - family secrets, parental failings and faults, and the author's own demons. I can imagine the writer's struggle with how best to tell the story, given its complexity and chronology. What emerges is a fragmentary collage of fading memories and revived recollections from long ago, reflecting exactly what our family stories are like - most of us know embarrassingly little about our parents' and grandparents' lives, but by the time we realise that, it's generally too late to find out what we want to know. Fortunately, Ben Watt realised in time, and if his book wasn't published in time for many of the people involved to read it, there is lots here for the rest of us to reflect on, and perhaps try to grab hold of those around us while we can as a result.


The Greengage Summer
The Greengage Summer
Price: £4.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Forbidden Fruit, 30 Mar. 2015
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This is a charming rites of passage tale that is very much in the spirit of The Go Between (and hence Atonement) and The Railway Children. I'm surprised I'd never come across it before (nor the film that it was made into starring Kenneth Moore, Susannah York and Jane Asher) but as in L. P. Hartley's Edwardian tale, this is essentially a story about adults using children for their own ends, and exposing all the frailties of being "grown-ups" in the process, against an idyllic backdrop of summer and countryside. Here, our narrator is Cecil, the second of five children cast adrift in a Champagne hotel by their mother's hospitalisation. Strangely in the film, Cecil's role has been edited out altogether (I suppose the film tells its own story rather than requiring a narrator?), but in the book she is our eyes and ears as the Grey family become intoxicated by their Greengage Summer and get their first tastes of various forbidden fruits. This intoxication is inevitably followed by drunkenness and severe hang-over, as the adults in the story ripen and then rot in the eyes of the children.


Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life)
Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life)
Price: £4.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Magnificent Book . . ., 19 Mar. 2015
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The title, "Late Fragments", is a reference to Raymond Carver's poem "Late Fragment" ("And did you get what
you wanted from this life . . . ?"), but there is nothing remotely fragmentary about Kate Gross's wonderful book. It is a series of sharp, precise, cohesive essays about different aspects of the author's life (friendship; childhood memories; the family unit; her work; her husband; etc) and her imminent death (how the shock-waves of one's grief affect others; what happens afterwards) as she deals with cancer. For any writer, the clarity of thought and expression here would be exceptional, but for one enduring chemotherapy and other drugs (as well as the horror of the diagnosis/prognosis), it is truly remarkable - every word rings true, every sentence makes you want to write it down, and every chapter stops you in your tracks with agreement, realisation, tears and joy. Her description of the "Spiral of Grief" distils something I've often thought about, but would never have been able to put into words (or pictures), as she manages.
Carver's poem continues with:
"And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth."
Kate Gross was clearly beloved on earth, and thanks to her magnificent book, we can all join in with that love.


A Pleasure and a Calling
A Pleasure and a Calling
Price: £5.55

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gazumped, 16 Mar. 2015
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William Heming is an unlikely hero. Firstly he's an estate agent, secondly he has a penchant for voyeurism and being an uninvited "hider-in-the-house", but most disturbingly, many of those he comes into contact with tend to die. So why a "hero"? Well maybe it's the first person narrative structure (for the chapters in the present, anyway) that draws you into his confidence, or maybe it's the fact that he seems to do good things for bad reasons, but it's hard not to end up rooting for this creepy key-collector, as impending doom closes in on him. Do his crimes pay-off, or does his sale fall through? I won't spoil the end, but for me, after an exciting build-up, come the completion date I couldn't help feeling like I'd been gazumped.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 8, 2015 4:06 PM BST


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