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Reviews Written by
Mr. A. Pomeroy (Wiltshire, England)
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On/Off
On/Off
by Mel Byars
Edition: Paperback

1.0 out of 5 stars Off, 30 Oct. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: On/Off (Paperback)
I bought this purely out of nostalgia - it was published right at the end of the dot.com era, December 2001. It's very much a period piece. One of the product shots has an image of the Bush/Gore debates, another shows some mapping software calculating a driving route to the World Trade Centre. A very different world.

It's essentially a cheap coffee table book, filled with publicity shots of contemporary electronics plus some concept ideas. The text is functional and the essay at the beginning is useless ("I can remember when this was all fields"). The concept ideas were final year design degree projects. None of them entered production, although a couple of the designers went on to great success, albeit not in the field of electronics.

The products are mostly too uninteresting to spark off much nostalgia. There's Trevor Bayliss' clockwork radio, which was a worthy idea that probably did nothing to actually help people in Africa; nowadays they all have mobile phones. There are lots of MP3 players, which again are just plastic rubbish nowadays. Lots of classic-style mobile phones from dead brands like Alcatel and Siemens, plus razors and alarm clocks and internet appliances and legacy-free PCs, mostly in translucent plastic. Surprisingly, Apple only gets four pages, half of which are about the "Apple Powerbook G4 Magnesium".

The problem is that there's no attempt at analysis, no in-depth discussion of the designs, no interviews with designers, no attempt to put any of the items in context, no wit or substance at all. It's just a lot of publicity images sourced from advertising agencies plus bland descriptions, and I imagine the book took only a few weeks to assemble at a cost of nothing. It existed back then as a stocking filler, the kind of thing you use to fill out a bookshelf, although given the publication date (in the midst of a wave of bankruptcies and collapses) I imagine that most of the audience had been laid off a few months earlier.


Regatta Men's Pack It Lightweight Waterproof Packaway Jacket
Regatta Men's Pack It Lightweight Waterproof Packaway Jacket
Price: £11.82 - £33.95

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lightweight, waterproof, surprisingly long, 30 Oct. 2015
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I bought one of these for a trip to Berlin. I wanted something with a hood but I didn't want to take something heavy, and this fits the bill. It's quasi-trenchcoat size, long enough to protect my bum. It has two outside pockets and two inside pockets, which aren't padded so I would be wary of putting a mobile phone in them. I've worn it several times in the rain and it really does work, only my legs got wet. There's a tag on the inside that recommends a waterproof spray which I haven't tried, but out of the box it is indeed waterproof.

A note on sizing. I'm 5'11", medium build. I ordered large. The arms are long enough that I can leave my hands inside the sleeves; the hood leaves me with a little porthole to see through; overall the size is enough to wear a down jacket underneath. It doesn't leak through when you sit down or lean against things. I find the large size useful because it lets air circulate - the inside doesn't get sweaty.

Anything else? It doesn't smell of plastic even when it's new. There's no padding, so it's not really cold weather gear. The hood tends to flatten my hair, making me look like Donald Trump, but that's true of all hoods. The main zip also has velcro pads to keep the zip waterproof. I admit that I haven't worn it in really torrential rain, I haven't cycled in it (presumably you'd have to jam your helmet over the hood) and I haven't been splashed by a lorry, but overall I liked it. It's lightweight and in mild days you can wear a jacket or shirt underneath without fear of getting sweaty.


Battleship
Battleship
Price: £3.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beware the savage jaw of 1884, 7 Oct. 2015
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This review is from: Battleship (Kindle Edition)
This is a reprint of Padfield's The Battleship Era, which came out in 1972. Padfield is still alive, and this is a revised edition for 2015 with a new foreword, although the narrative still comes to an end in 1945. It doesn't cover the Cold War and Gulf War career of the United States' battleships, for example. It focuses almost entirely on Britain's development of battleships and the nation's eventual decline as the world's major power - Britain is the lead actor, and other nations are presented in that context. On the other hand we *were* the leading naval power of the last several hundred years, with the French trying several times to out-clever our materiel supremacy. The melancholic thing is that it was all for nothing; in the end Germany eclipsed France as the baddies, and within a few decades America eclipsed us.

It's refreshingly old-school. Modern history books tend to focus on people, Padfield's book is very much about gun batteries, shell weights, displacements, gunnery control and novel new weapons. It's interesting to compare it with Robert Massie's Dreadnought and Castles of Steel, which cover similar ground. They use some of the same quotes and cover Jutland in a similar way. Massie writes about the politics and people of the time, Padfield concentrates on the hardware, and the books complement each other well.

Padfield's writing rattles along in an almost breathless fashion - he comes across as an enthusiastic university lecturer, waving his hands about. I learned that ramming came back into vogue in the 1800s, that gun aiming was shockingly bad right up until the 20th century, and I also learned about HMS Captain, an avant-garde design that was built very low to the water and ended up sinking with the loss of almost all hands, including the man who designed it. The final chapter, in which battleships become an endangered species, hunted down and sunk by air power, is quite sad.

Problems? It stops abruptly with the destruction of Japan's super-battleship Yamato. Yamato is sunk, and two paragraphs later the book finishes. I understand the book is about the battleship *era* rather than battleships, but it would have been nice to cover the post-WW2 career of the remaining ships, and the various arguments for keeping USS Missouri and Iowa afloat in the post-battleship era. Specific to the Kindle edition, all the plates are shoved to the back of the book, so unless you have Google open you have to imagine what the battleships look like. Padfield's coverage of the Royal Navy's attempts to source a good gunnery control system go on a bit too long and take up most of the foreword as well. As entertainment Robert Massie's books are more engaging and paint a more vivid portrait of the times, but again he had more pages to cover a narrower slice of history, so he could take his time.

One thing stuck with me. Germany's battleship building programme of the early 1900s helped spark off the Great War. But as Padfield points out, the Germany navy did almost nothing to help Germany win, and the submarine offensive eventually brought America into the war against Germany. If the Germans had spent the money on a few more infantry divisions and some more artillery pieces, the Germany army might have beaten the French, winning the war. In the end the powerful allure of having a lot of big battleships blinded Imperial Germany, which promptly drove off a cliff.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 9, 2016 6:42 AM GMT


Brylcreem Original Red Hair Cream - 250 ml
Brylcreem Original Red Hair Cream - 250 ml
Offered by Innox Trading
Price: £4.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little dab etc, 7 Oct. 2015
I too was suspicious of Brylcreem.

I've always associated it with the shiny, slicked-back look of 1940s spivs - Devo's plastic hair look - but that's because the adverts were exaggerated. My hair sticks out oddly but I use a little bit of this to keep it in place. Basically two finger-dabs brushed into freshly-towelled hair. If you use too much the smell gets overpowering and you end up looking as though someone has melted something on your head. In moderation it's fine. Also the tub lasts forever.

One thing. Ages ago I had one of the old-style tubs, with a red top and a white base. The tub I bought a couple of weeks ago resembles Amazon's image - red top, silvery base, with a logo that says "protein enriched". They're subtly different. The older stuff was thicker, the new stuff is closer to shaving foam. The smell is similar but if anything the newer version is sweeter and more pungent. I'm on the fence as to which one is better. The new stuff doesn't smell as nice but it's easier to work with and rub in - the thicker, older variety felt greasier.

Also, if you actually are a 1940s spiv, this is just the ticket old chap.


Gold Label Dubbin Softens, Waterproofs & Preserves Leather, Horse Tack, Boots
Gold Label Dubbin Softens, Waterproofs & Preserves Leather, Horse Tack, Boots
Offered by Horseactive Equine & Pet Supplies
Price: £5.39

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Squeak-no-more, 15 Sept. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I have an old pair of leather army boots that creak and squeak when I walk, and they're a bit frayed at the edges. I bought some of this dubbin stuff to see what it was like; I've never used dubbin before. You get loads for the money. I slapped it on to the boots, left them for half an hour, buffed them with a cloth and now they don't squeak. It might be just psychological but they feel more comfortable (they seem more supple than before). Water just turns into beads and rolls off.

On the downside you end up with slightly waxy greasy boots and after a week mine have attracted a lot of dust - you're supposed to wipe it off periodically and then reapply sparingly. I was expecting it to whiff of paraffin but it doesn't smell of anything. So, er, top marks. It does what it says on the container.

NB I bought the clear stuff and used it on black boots - it was invisible except for some of the finer cracks, where it looked a little bit waxy.


makesnd cassette
makesnd cassette
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Sine swoop click, 14 Sept. 2015
This review is from: makesnd cassette (MP3 Download)
This is great. It actually came out in 1999 but hasn't aged a bit. It has fifteen tracks but it's really three or four songs split into bits - the tempo is the same throughout. The style is incredibly minimalist. The percussion is a mixture of sine waves (the bass) and single-cycle waveforms (the snare pops) and the melodies are single-note grooves, all fed through a swoopy filter with no reverb or echo, so it sounds really in-your-face. It sound bleak on paper but it's surprisingly warm and fun, and although the tracks don't evolve very much there's enough variation that it never gets boring.


AmazonBasics Ultra-Thick Microfibre Cleaning Cloths (Pack of 3)
AmazonBasics Ultra-Thick Microfibre Cleaning Cloths (Pack of 3)
Price: £5.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I like to touch them, 25 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I don't often write reviews of cloths on the internet, but when I do the world holds its breath and trembles. These come in a neat box which is handy for selling stuff on eBay. You get three cloths; yellow as in the photograph. They are good-looking enough that you can drape them around the house without offending guests.

I bought them specifically for camera lenses, although they're surprisingly large - about the size of a tabloid newspaper opened up - but you can also use them for monitors, cleaning laptops, windows etc. I have done all of these things and I am happy. They don't leave bits of felt behind and they have a distinctive grippy feel. They wash just fine in the washing machine and sink. Could you use them for "the other thing"? Quite possibly, I haven't tried that. Yet.

So, er, thumbs up.


Family Britain, 1951-1957 (Tales of a New Jerusalem Book 2)
Family Britain, 1951-1957 (Tales of a New Jerusalem Book 2)
Price: £7.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A thing to admire and endure, 25 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Two stars. I just couldn't stand it any more. Two stars for the depth of research, two stars for attempting something unusual. No more stars. About three-quarters of the way through I realised I was grudgingly enduring the book until I could roll over and go to sleep.

Back in mid-2014 I read the first volume in this series, Austerity Britain. It was refreshing - a stark, finely-detailed, almost brutalist recounting of Britain's post-war years. It had minimal editorial and almost nothing about the world outside Britain. There were no thematic diversions, no jumps to the present, almost no attempts to put things in context, no talking heads interviews. In the words of A N Wilson it felt like "an enforced reliving of those years".

At the time I believed that the style had been chosen to complement the subject matter, and I ended with a mental picture of a bleak, grey age, and a generation of people who were uninterested in the outside world. Why should they care? Britain was top dog, at least in their minds. At the same time I had doubts. The author's habit of juxtaposing momentous events with football victories and radio cookery programmes got old quickly. Was it really building up to something, or was the author simply putting all of his research onto the page, indiscrimately?

I couldn't stand volume two. Kynaston's style wasn't a deliberate choice after all, it's simply how he writes. He admits this during the book's coverage of the Suez Crisis; he points out that he isn't trying to write about the grand sweep of history, which is a shame because the Suez chapter is engaging and interesting albeit very rushed. It's shocking to learn after five hundred pages that there are countries outside Britain and events that are not football or radio cookery programmes. The concentration on what is essentially trivia irritated me and I think the Suez chapter finally made me lose my temper, because it highlights the book's flaws. In one paragraph Britain detonates its first atomic bomb, and in the next paragraph we learn about soap powder adverts, then there is something about Woodbines and darts. Britain's atomic programme is then forgotten as we learn a little about Benny Hill and Sooty - but, frustratingly, only a little, because then there is soap powder and cricket. What about the atomic bomb?

The Korean war is first mentioned in the second half of a sentence, as something that has been happening for a while. It's mentioned half a dozen times thereafter as something that is happening far away, but Kynaston never actually *writes about it*. Did it mean so little for people in Britain? There's a case to be made that this kind of thing - a mass of trivia - was the *real* Britain, but by God it gets monotonous. And it *is* trivia. Even in the 1950s television and radio stars were coming along all the time, they were more or less interchangeable commodities. Britain's nuclear programme was hugely expensive and significant. It's not fashionable to write about Kings and wars and noblemen and treaties today but, let's be honest, the framework generated by The State shapes society far more than society shapes The State, especially so in Britain in the 1950s.

And without international context, how can I tell whether Britain was doing the right thing or not? Germany and Japan gradually outstripped us, but why? What about Britain's international empire, how was that coping? What about British people living abroad? Alas the book concentrates on then-new television shows and cookery books and comedians and popular singers and social clubs. Gardens, football matches. And by focusing so narrowly on just a few years there's almost no context, so things are brought up and then dropped and then brought up and then dropped and never resolved.

It's frustrating, because the book is readable and I am in awe of the research involved. If it was half the length - if indeed it had been chopped down by two-thirds and merged with Austerity Britain - it would get four stars. The doubly frustrating thing is that Kynaston seems to realise this, dropping hints now and again that Britain in the 1950s simply wasn't as eventful as Britain of the 1960s. I'm going against the tide with this review, but I believe in what I write; perhaps you could skip this volume and move on to the next, which I haven't read yet but surely can't be any less interesting.


Blackspur BB-SH200 Sharpening Stone and Box Set
Blackspur BB-SH200 Sharpening Stone and Box Set
Price: £2.00

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He puts my mind at ease, 7 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I sometimes get lonely, and who am I going to talk to? So I bought one of these to keep me company. He's just a block of stone, but he's a great listener and we've had some interesting discussions. We worked out how to solve the Eurozone crisis! I can't remember what solution we hit upon, but it was good and just. I think it involved filling the Mediterranean with soil and uniting Europe and Africa into a new supercontinent called Eufrica.

I call him Cedric the Brick, although of course he isn't literally a brick. At night I put the little lid over him so that he can get some sleep. We haven't been on any walks or anything, but by my estimation he should live for several billion years, so there's still time. He doesn't need food, you don't have to wash him. The only thing that I would change is the colour of his house, I'm not too fond on dull red (in real life the colour is a kind of dull red rather than the flourescent pink in Amazon's product photo).

I like to tickle his tummy.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 6, 2015 5:27 PM GMT


The Second World War: A Complete History
The Second World War: A Complete History
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Grand Sweep of History, 28 April 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Several years ago I read an old-fashioned paper version of Martin Gilbert's First World War, and I was always curious about the sequel. Not curious enough to buy it until it came out as an eBook. I ended up reading it whilst on holiday in Budapest, which was an odd experience because Budapest has a small guest appearance towards the end of the book - it is demolished. Almost every location that appears in Second World War is demolished.

First World War was a straightforward and relatively conventional narrative history. Gilbert's treatment of the sequel is a lot more direct. On a pragmatic level he was probably just short of space, but the spartan narrative mirrors the brutal, mechanistic nature of the war itself. The Nazi war aims were unsubtle; the conduct of the war began with some deft military footwork but quickly turned into a series of bludgeoning hammer blows; by 1945 the Nazis were simply killing people for no reason at all, the Japanese were stuffing a generation of young men into a meat grinder for nothing, and it only ended with the obliteration of entire cities, the deaths of millions, the atomic hellfire of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the total upsetting of the existing world order. In the process Europe was crushed like a bug and the modern world was made.

Gilbert begins on page one with the invasion of Poland and continues chronologically thereafter. No boxouts, no diversions, no thematic essays. He leaps from one theatre to the other seamlessly, although this does get repetitive; it goes military action - civilian atrocities - military action - atrocities for page after page. Hundreds, thousands die on every page and I occasionally wondered which paragraph had the highest death toll.

Gilbert continues the narrative for several decades after the end of the war, and I'm not the first reviewer who wishes he could have filled in a bit of context before the beginning, and of course there's nothing about the Japanese occupation of China in the 1930s or the rise of the Nazis or the general rise of Fascism as a mass movement. Nonetheless I found the book an extraordinary, shattering experience. Almost numbing. For six years human lives were less valuable than a box of bullets or a can of petrol. Every few pages there is a striking detail, most of which I have forgotten (consults book) the March 1945 Granville raid, in which the Germans successfully sallied from the Channel Islands to the French port of Granville, taking the Allied defenders by surprise just as the war was ending; Dr Eberl, the first commandant of Treblinka, who is dismissed after a month because he disposed of the bodies too slowly; SS Lance-Corporal Libesis, who is not squeamish about shooting Russians. Did these people expect to grow old? Death seems to be a matter of random chance.

The book has some weaknesses beyond the lack of context. It's not a people-book. Unlike for example Robert Massie's Castles of Steel I learned nothing at all about the personalities involved. The likes of Montgomery, Patton, and Zhukov are mentioned almost in passing (Montgomery barely appears). The little people who die in their droves are mostly names and an ethnicity or just part of a mass. Of the top Nazis only Goebbels makes an impression, because the book quotes extensively from his diaries. Whenever there is a British commando raid on Europe, however trivial, it gets a mention; American exploits are covered in much less detail. There's very little coverage of military strategy, which is understandable given that it's a general history, but without knowing more about the fighting it seems strange that the Axis collapses so quickly and thoroughly. Japan's military in particular transforms from a worldbeating force into a liability almost overnight. Japan didn't have a Stalingrad, and yet within two years every battle ends with absolute disaster for the Japanese. They routinely throw thousands of soldiers against the US Marines, who kill them all for the loss of a hundred Marines. How did the Soviets suddenly manage to become worldbeaters? Etc.

And it's neither a strength nor a weakness, but contrary to the modern style there are no personal interviews. The book deals with the grand sweep of events, not individual people. I'm not sure that the book would have benefited from personal reminiscences, they would seem trite. In this respect the book feels a little old-fashioned. It's not that it only covers the big people, it's that it doesn't cover people, it concentrates on events.

Atrocities. The book has an unusual focus on the mass murder of civilians; but perhaps it only seems unusual because I'm used to reading military histories in which wars are made of battles, and mass murder is something that isn't really war. On every page civilians are rounded up and shot, nine hundred here, ten thousand there, seventy here, a hundred there. Old men, mothers, children, women. Thousands, millions of people killed because they were in the way. By the end of the war the German military is rationing artillery shells while the well-equipped SS are given petrol to drive around in trucks killing the last few thousand Jews left in Romania and Lithuania, and for what? Gilbert's book generally avoids anaylsis and instead just presents the facts, which again is frustrating. It would be nice if an experienced historian could have explained the Nazis' motives (sadly Martin Gilbert died recently, so he can't do it).

Nonetheless the book is fairly clear in explaining that the Nazis wanted to use the chaos of war as cover for their ethnic cleansing, although again it would be nice to know why they felt the need to cover anything up; I had always assumed that the Nazis had ultimate power and could do whatever they wanted. The impression is of a political party with an unrealistic manifesto that suddenly found itself far out of its depth having to implement it, and because Hitler and the top Nazis had built up an image of strength, they were unwilling to put it off, which meant having to purge millions of people while simultaneously running a war, which was beyond them.

One thing struck me as I finished the book. If I had been a German soldier, returning from Russian captivity in 1955 to East Germany, and I had found out that Hitler and his cronies were more interested in rounding up civilians than providing me with winter gear, I would have wanted to put a bullet into him myself.


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