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A Ryder (London UK)

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The Establishment: And how they get away with it
The Establishment: And how they get away with it
by Owen Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but compelling, 30 Jan. 2015
Whatever else this book may be, it has certainly sparked debate, which is the first step to change (whether for better or worse) so it gets a fourth star rating for that. To be clear, broadly speaking I agree with Jones' arguments, but the book would only otherwise merit three stars for a few reasons.

Firstly it's too long - Darryl Cunningham's graphic book 'Supercrash' accomplishes much the same arguments, with less anecdotal evidence, in far fewer pages - and it can be repetitive. Secondly the blokey, colloquial style seems at odds with the subject matter, having more in common with one of the reviewers, a certain Russell Brand, which brings me to the third reason, namely it isn't really clear who the book is aimed at. Those who don't share Jones's views are unlikely to be converted by his arguments, as is amply shown by the many reviews here deriding his politics, whereas those who believe there is growing inequality in Britain and that this is essentially bad for everyone are unlikely to learn anything new. Yes, these things need to stay in the public consciousness, but more than that, acted on. The fourth and final reason is that sometimes he favours impact over objectivity and the example that springs to mind is ascribing the onset of a man's mental illness to time spent in police custody and presumably unsuitable treatment. I don't personally know the case or participants, but the man was taken into custody while on LSD. Whatever the reality of his treatment by police, it can't be ruled out that the use of psychedelic drugs played some part in his subsequent mental ill health. By making assertions to the contrary, Jones does his general arguments no favours.

The main strengths of the book for me are its structure and the abundance of source material referenced. He starts very properly by attempting to define what he means by 'the Establishment' in recognition of the fact that it is different things to different people, goes on to explore the origins of the current establishment as we know it and then takes various facets of it in turn before concluding with a chapter about what we can do about it. The incidences he recounts are very much in the public domain and by and large illustrate his statements. If the final chapter is weak and nebulous, that is the challenge facing those of us who want change.

One final point: Owen Jones has been personally attacked by a number of reviewers. If you aren't familiar with him you'd be forgiven for thinking he dictates his books to slaves from his personal wing of Buckingham Palace and is thus the country's biggest hypocrite. He didn't grow up in a cardboard box on the M1 hard shoulder, he went to Oxford and he's a published writer, but I would suggest (and sincerely hope) that none of this precludes anyone from taking a political and economic viewpoint that's left of centre, and it isn't hard to be left of the current status quo. He also concedes that he could be considered a member of the establishment he criticises, and recounts interviewees who are rather condescending about his becoming more conservative as he ages, like so many others. There are such things as fifth columns, and changes from within ("The enemy" if you are of a Thatcherite persuasion) and it is of-course those who disagree with his views who claim that the only 'valid' opposition has to be from those with no education, slum credentials and no success.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 5, 2015 2:20 PM GMT


Creative Paper Cutting
Creative Paper Cutting
by Cheong-ah Hwang
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction, 26 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: Creative Paper Cutting (Paperback)
I'm new to this craft and received this book for Christmas. It's a good introduction - I've managed to make the card on the cover at my first attempt, and I'm not the most adept at these things - with an overall intro to the skills, tools and materials you will need. There are then 15 projects which range from cards to motifs for use more generally (nursery decoration, pictures, gifts etc.) which are set out clearly like a recipe, with what equipment is required and a step-by-step method. As is usual with this kind of thing, one or two steps are now and then omitted (e.g. I had to check carefully and read on before realising whether or not I should remove a template from a piece of card at a certain point) but generally this is a handy guide with some nice projects to get going with. The templates are all at the back of the book so you can just photocopy to different sizes to re-use them.

A couple of things I would add from my recent experiences with this book are:

1. Buy card in bulk - you'll need spares and a variety and it can be expensive.
2. You can get by with variations on the kit listed, e.g. plastic ruler, one flexible curve etc. but the essentials are a sharp craft knife and a cutting board.

Happy crafting!


dotcomgiftshop Vintage World Map Hardshell Glasses Case & Cleaning Cloth
dotcomgiftshop Vintage World Map Hardshell Glasses Case & Cleaning Cloth
Offered by Dotcomgiftshop
Price: £4.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite the world, 26 Jan. 2015
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Attractive hard-shell glasses case with a flock interior and a dinky little lens cloth. It'll fit most modern specs (i.e. not large frames) and seems robust. Be aware however that the cover may not survive much battering around in a bag etc. It sits on my dressing table and already I've managed to scratch it. For those interested, the map features Europe on the top and Africa underneath, with America, most of Asia and Australasia missing.


Berlin. Portrait of a City
Berlin. Portrait of a City
by -
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Small but perfectly formed, 31 Dec. 2014
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This is up to the usual standard of Taschen Books in terms of its explanatory text and high-quality images. Many of the photographs detail Berlin's interesting history and transformation from Imperial capital to uber-modern world city.

That said, my main purpose in reviewing is to mention that this is a much-reduced version of the hardback, both in size and content (192 pages as opposed to 688 and A5 instead of large foolscap). The description on its own doesn't seem to make that very clear, so while this is a fair price, it isn't quite the bargain the buyer may think.


Mystery in White: A Christmas Crime Story (British Library Crime Classics)
Mystery in White: A Christmas Crime Story (British Library Crime Classics)
by J. Jefferson Farjeon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A curiosity and not much more, 29 Dec. 2014
Like many others, I suspect, I bought this on the promise of the attractive vintage-style cover and a cosy Christmas read. All credit to the British Library for re-publishing this in a package that would sell, because the content of the book hasn't all that much to recommend it.

The premise is familiar to fans of Christie, Sayers et al, namely a mysterious old country house with an odd assortment of occupants in which a murder is committed. It starts well enough, with the first few chapters taking the reader from the snowbound train, through a fraught journey in search of a nearby station, to the discovery of the house which, though empty, seems to await their arrival. From there, however, the plot slows to a glacial pace and what could have been a neat short story is spun out to over 250 pages with lots of pointless dialogue. Presumably it's meant to be witty banter and is a feature of a number of inter-war books, but it's just dull here, and the lack of tension makes apparent that it's all so dated. One character is treated suspiciously because he is "common" (and yes, naturally he turns out to be a baddun!) and a potential romance between a middle-class young man and a chorus girl is thwarted by the arrival of a more "cultured" young woman. The plot itself is so-so - a melodrama concerning inheritance with a couple of holes in it and an ingenious hiding place - and to be fair Farjeon does achieve a sense of menace in some scenes - but overall it wasn't a page-turner or a particularly satisfying read. If this is typical of his work, he was presumably a fashionable author rather than a very good one, hence his work being largely unread today.

Essentially of interest to fans of inter-war crime novels as a companion piece to more familiar writers, and echoing some of the same preoccupations, such as the widespread impact of the Great War, but the markers of its 1930s origins are the negative ones mentioned in the previous paragraphs rather than anything that makes the reader feel 'at home' in the setting. This is one of a series of re-issued books under the 'British Library Crime Classics' banner, all with similarly-styled covers, but after this initial read I'll approach the others with caution. I find it hard to part with books generally, but this one is already earmarked for charity.


Hand to Mouth: The Truth About Being Poor in a Wealthy World
Hand to Mouth: The Truth About Being Poor in a Wealthy World

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Needs to be said, 6 Nov. 2014
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I read a newspaper review of this which described the author as 'very angry' and implied it was a worthwhile but tiring read. Linda Tirado is often very angry, and some of it comes out in this book, but anyone reading it can understand why. She explains articulately (the swearing is superfluous, but it's her voice, and as she's keen to point out, these are her personal experiences; she is not a mouthpiece for generic poverty) how she slipped from a relatively comfortable childhood and a start at college to an endless succession of service jobs punctuated by periods of unemployment and accompanied by moves from one temporary home to another. It will resonate with anyone who has been or is in a similar situation, and illustrates vividly just how easy it is to lose your foothold on getting along ok so that you are struggling for survival.

Tirado refutes, with some success, the accusations often thrown at those in poverty, for example issues around smoking, dirt, procreation and laziness. She doesn't paint herself or her colleagues and friends as saints, but speaks plain common sense, and cautions against lumping any mass of people together because of one similarity such as lack of money. She also refers to recent scientific studies which are further explored in books like 'Scarcity': we'd all be terrible with money if we didn't have any, because our brains focus on short-term survival.

It wasn't news to me, but reading her example it struck me again just how many ways things work against you when you have nothing, and how much harder it is to catch up to 'prosperous' from a standing start. Everything is weighted against you, from not being able to work for literal peanuts (lunch money and travel if you're lucky) to build a career, to not being able to afford to buy in bulk and therefore save yourself money per unit.

It also struck me as a UK resident how lucky we are to have the NHS. It really is, along with free school education, the basis of a civilised society, and we will fight to keep it. Many of Tirado's problems involve lack of decent healthcare because she can't afford it, and she is, by the standards of many others in her situation, fit and healthy.

Good for Tirado, then, to try to pull herself out of poverty in the manner of telling it how it is, which needs saying loudly and clearly. She isn't where she is because of endless feckless behaviour, she is one of the casualties of capitalism, which can't operate without this dark side. She understands that, and even accepts it - those who will dismiss the book as whining have no grounds at all - but she argues the case for a fairer deal to the advantage of everyone. What incentive is there for service workers to provide service when they have nothing to lose? She could be a case study for Owen Jones's arguments, because no amount of middle-class journalists, however well meaning, can do a cleaning job for a month and claim they know what it is to be poor. Tirado describes the monotony, the lack of real choices, the sheer exhausting grind of living hand to mouth, so that you admire her for having the energy left to write, or even to think, and to carry on with hope.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 27, 2014 8:24 PM GMT


Female Agents [2008] [DVD]
Female Agents [2008] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Sophie Marceau
Offered by westworld-
Price: £14.46

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nothing new and not the real deal, but entertaining, 26 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: Female Agents [2008] [DVD] (DVD)
This was better than I expected, which isn't saying much as my toes were ready to curl at the first cliche. With a title as brash and stark as this, I didn't build my hopes up, good French cast or not. The French title, as another reviewer has mentioned, refers to them as 'Shadows', like the excellent 1969 Melville film 'L'Armee des Ombres', but while this would have been a better title, sadly it wouldn't have been a better film.

The strong point for me is the structure, which builds tension nicely and doesn't dwell too much on the set-up (one of the extras has the director explaining why he deleted three scenes from this early part of the film). The ladies in question are a disparate group of Frenchwomen brought together to rescue an English geologist detained in a German hospital in France. It's all to do with the planned invasion of Normandy in summer 1944 and needless to say things don't quite go to plan. There's a lot of hiding, lying and shooting packed into the 113 minutes and never a dull moment.

If action is your thing, then the above should be enough to make you want to watch it, and you won't be disappointed, but if you're expecting something along the lines of Melville, or 'Lacombe Lucien', then don't be tempted here. This is described as being based on true characters and events, but there would seem to be pretty large liberties with the truth. Yes, Buckmaster's SOE recruits were raw but they did get training before being parachuted into occupied France. If you do some basic Googling you realise that the characters and stories are a composite of many lives and many incidents, allowing the plot to involve elements of nonsense, and while the agents are more than one-dimensional they are stuck a little short of three. The Germans (Moritz Bleibtrau and Volker Bruch particularly are wasted here) are depicted as nasty villains who have slightly less depth to them than Von Klinkerhoffen in 'Allo Allo' (and no, the Colonel's 'love' for Liliane doesn't humanise him in the slightest) and while we're on the subject of a certain comedy, Sophie Marceau's raincoated brunette and deep drawling voice inevitably bring to mind Michelle, who says things 'only wernce'.

It's good to see a war film where women genuinely take centre stage, rather than being merely love interests or shoe-horned into the action in unlikely ways for the time (Cate Blanchett's Maid Marian on the beach in 'Robin Hood' - need I say more?) but... this goodwill is slightly sullied by a couple of scenes of undressed women that come across as gratuitous. I don't refer to the strip show, which was common enough for entertaining soldiers and so is at least an accurate depiction, but the scenes in which one agent is humiliated prior to torture, and that of a woman's death by suicide.

So overall, keep your expectations low and you may enjoy it. While not reaching the heights of the above-mentioned war films, and several others besides, it's still better than most of the terrible Hollywood dross churned out about the war, such as 'Valkyrie'. The cast does its best with an average script and speak French, German and English where appropriate, for once, and Julie Depardieu is particularly engaging as Jeanne, whose personal journey through the film is probably the strongest.


Saskatchewan Homestead - Book One: 1920-1924
Saskatchewan Homestead - Book One: 1920-1924
by J. Ken Mullen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Useful rather than entertaining, 17 Sept. 2014
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I found this while searching for material on Canada in the inter-war period and this has proved useful in that it describes some basic early 20th Century farming routines and processes in the extreme climate. It also contains some rough sketches of equipment etc. to illustrate the text. I've ordered Book Two on the strength of the above.

I feel a bit mean explaining why I didn't rate it more highly, because the author is a descendant of the 'characters' who move west to start anew after WWI. He has clearly written and published this and the remaining volumes as a labour of love and not as a literary masterpiece, but.. it isn't well-written. First of all it reads as an uneasy mix of chronicle and novelisation, and as the latter it's fairly dull. There are also numerous missing words, misspellings and odd grammatical constructions, at the sort of elementary level you might expect from a schoolchild. The use of indirect speech, for example, is quite confusing here, and direct or reported speech is far more stilted and expositional than the usual run of both printed prose and ordinary talk, e.g. "Oscar I am glad we are travelling in this little house, I had visions of a long trip in a [sic] open sleigh with frozen hands and feet. What do you call these things anyway?" If these errors and the style of writing had been bequeathed directly from a journal or letters, so be it, but as a written account by a third party they make it a difficult read. This needed a good editor or even a ghost writer to bring it to life.

In sum I would say good for purposes of research into the time and place, but not an involving general read, sadly.


A German Deserter’s War Experience
A German Deserter’s War Experience
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Raw and grim, 12 Sept. 2014
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Difficult to verify, without research, the provenance of this narrative, since all references that might identify the author are understandably removed. However, there are no obvious signs of fakery and the description is dispassionate, cynical and sticks closely to the experiences he claims to have had without tangential observations, political polemic or unnecessary background.

The writer is a sapper, whose period as a conscript is about to expire when the Great War breaks out and he is kept in the army and sent to advance through Belgium and into France. He doesn't want to fight and doesn't share the patriotism and romantic notions of war of the majority of his fellows, but grows increasingly embittered about his officers and the grandees who have sent him and thousands like him to be at best brutalised and at worst slaughtered on the Western Front. By far the majority of the text is concerned with his experiences of fighting, whether in the trenches, dugouts, rotated to the rear for respite or moving blindly forward 'over the top' to try to gain or regain ground against the mainly Belgian and French troops. A short section at the end describes how he determines never to return after his long-awaited furlough and follows him through Holland and finally to America, where he wrote of his experiences.

It's a stripped-bare view of the business of warfare and its consequences, and holds further interest for readers in English by expressing a German perspective.


The Great War: The People's Story - Alan Lloyd: The Lost Generation
The Great War: The People's Story - Alan Lloyd: The Lost Generation
Price: £1.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Individual chronicle as companion to the series, 9 Sept. 2014
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An account of a rich young man (the family were related to Lloyd's Bank) who went against his Quaker relatives' principles and fought in WWI, this is the full story from one featured in the ITV docu-drama to coincide with the centenary of the outbreak of war in 1914. It's an interesting companion to Reg Evans's story and a bit less accessible to a modern reader. Both men have understandably Edwardian sensibilities, which is charming, but Lloyd also has an affected way of writing endearments to his wife Dorothy, calling her 'Little Wife' and himself 'Hubbins', that is very of its time!

There is a lot of talk of the 'myths' of WWI at the moment, including that of a Lost Generation, but that doesn't discount the very real grief at the death of a lively young son, brother, husband and father while repairing communications on the Western Front in 1916. As a chronicle of life sacrificed to a futile war, this is a poignant read.


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