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Nam Au Go Go
Nam Au Go Go
by John Akins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.51

4.0 out of 5 stars A tale that needs to be heard, 11 Mar 2014
This review is from: Nam Au Go Go (Paperback)
This is a no-frills factual account of the grim Vietnam War Odyssey of a US Marine, John Akins. He’s swiftly hurled into a nightmarishly stressful world of small unit combat – unbroken months of unpredictable booby-traps, snipers, ambush and counter-attack in rugged jungle. Morale and comradeship are rock-bottom from the start. As Akins comments, it’s ironic that the only time in his life he’s been mugged is by fellow Marines during a combat operation. And, in this jungle, soldier / soldier hatreds can quickly lead to easily hidden murder. The system sends Akins to hell, but then he overcomes its horrors by becoming one of the devils himself. Emotionally flooded by too many monstrous experiences, he loses all fear of death and starts to relish fighting and killing and chancing his life. He ends up hungry for fighting and lost without the dramas of jungle war. On rare breaks from the jungle he sees that there’s now something about him which terrifies other people. Military police follow him around on base. Civilians cross the road. His own mother fails to recognise him. He’s every officer’s worst nightmare for he combines fearlessness and military prowess with extreme defiance of authority figures - whom he blames for what he’s been turned into. Back in US, peace is impossible for him. The nearest he gets to it is as a lone welder on very high buildings, instant death nicely on hand. Compulsively defiant towards other people, he repeatedly sabotages his job prospects and relationships with women. How fortunate that he did at long last get some sort of therapeutic help. Because much that he writes makes him sound as though at one time at risk of perpetrating one of those random public gun massacres so common in the United States.

I’m glad I read this book because it puts a human face on the figure of the deeply disturbed war veteran, who’ll be around in our world for the foreseeable future. More will be coming from the Iraq war, from Afghanistan and from other wars and covert murder and torture programmes which the US government will continue to direct. It’s helpful to hear how it is from within, from someone whom you can at least partly like, so that you don’t twist truth and demonise them unjustly.

It may not sound like it, but this book is an easy read and something I wanted to keep reading. It’s somewhat garbled in how its tale is ordered but this reflects its genuineness. No editor has been tidying or revising it - with John Akins, you can easily understand that no-one would dare! On holiday, I stumbled on the book by chance in a bookshop in Hoi An, one of the southern Vietnam towns in the story. What a pity that it isn’t better known. Well, Solomon Northup’s ‘Twelve Years A Slave’ somehow dropped out of sight for a century but then inspired a best-selling film. Let’s hope that ‘Nam Au Go Go’ can likewise get rediscovered. For it too has a powerful message - but about a tragedy which America hasn’t even attempted to address.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley  (Two Disc Special Edition) [DVD]
The Wind That Shakes The Barley (Two Disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Cillian Murphy

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark chapter in British history, systematically hidden from us, 19 Oct 2013
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It's a sad, grim film which shows a dark chapter in British history, which has been systematically hidden from British citizens. i bought this DVD after a holiday in Dublin and a tour round Kilmainham Gaol which made me realise that British rule in Ireland had been far, far more brutal than I had ever realised, which started me reading up on the 1916 - 1923 period. This film shows very harshly British brutality during the Irish War of Independence and the conflicts within the Irish nationalist side which led to the Irish Civil War. It's set in beautiful, haunting, misty Irish landscape, but it's hard to appreciate the latter because of the grim, terrible story taking place.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 21, 2013 9:19 PM BST

Price: £12.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful songs. A perfect album in every way., 13 Oct 2013
This review is from: Contraband (Audio CD)
These songs are beautiful in their lyrics, tunes and delivery. Why isn't she better known? A real discovery for me. Just try this wonderfully crafted CD.

KITCHENER: Portrait of an Imperialist
KITCHENER: Portrait of an Imperialist
by Philip Magnus
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great recruiting poster, shame about the man himself, 7 Oct 2013
I got this book from the library, intending to read only as far as 1899 as background information for writing a historical novel. But I ended up reading the whole thing, so mesmerised did I become with how horrible a man was Kitchener.

It's important to know that the author is an aristocratic former British army officer, a child during World War One, and something of an imperialist himself. So the book's sub-title doesn't signify criticism of Kitchener. The author most certainly is not a modern left-wing anti-militarist!

But what does the author really think? Repeatedly this book presents detailed anecdotes about Kitchener which are told deadpan and without comment but which are utterly damning according to my values. Yet typically they are preceded or followed by bland generalisations in support of Kitchener. Some sample anecdotes: how Kitchener, like the nastier sort of Roman emperor, had a captured Mahdist leader dragged by horses and whipped round town. How he dug up the Mahdi's skull as a trophy. How he schemed to deport permanently from South Africa to Indonesia those Boer women and children who survived the epidemic-ridden concentration camps, where he had confined them after burning their homes. How he stole art objects wherever he went. Or how, as army commander in India, he spent all his energies undermining the civilian British leadership because he simply had to be top dog.

It's only on the subject of Kitchener's disastrous, repeated blundering during World War One, hidden from the adoring public, that the author supplements eye-opening factual anecdotes with explicit and strong condemnation of Kitchener.

I'm still unsure where the author stands on a number of things. As the book describes, a fierce cult of hero-worship formed around Kitchener (still sometimes evident) and maybe it is this which makes him pull his punches. What he reveals, however, gives the impression that Kitchener would have made a promising top officer for the Third Reich - in black uniform or green - but for one discordant trait. He was such a domineering bully that he'd have got into trouble for hassling for the Fuhrer job for himself.

Skil 1061 800W Jigsaw (discontinued by manufacturer)
Skil 1061 800W Jigsaw (discontinued by manufacturer)

2.0 out of 5 stars Beware a major undeclared drawback, 12 April 2013
Despite its positive features, I wish I'd bought some other jigsaw instead.

The advertised dust extraction feature does not fit some common vacuum cleaners - Henry, Dyson & Sebo for instance. So it cannot be used. Skil know this but do not advertise this drawback nor, when I asked them, do they supply an adaptor despite knowing the problem. I've tried other sources for an adaptor but no luck. (There isn't a dust blower, despite some puzzling publicity about a blower / extractor option.)

This dust problem is major because I wanted this jigsaw for fine curved cuts. As an earlier reviewer has commented, this jigsaw's enclosed base-plate design means that dust collects very fast around the blade, obscuring the marked line completely. This didn't happen on my previous gapped base-plate jigsaw, so I hadn't grasped how much difference this design feature would make. Blowing dust away by mouth isn't an option since I wear an enclosed powered respirator to avoid dust inhalation. So now I need to have one hand occupied holding a fine vacuum attachment close to the jigsaw blade or I won't see where it should go.

This aside, this jigsaw feels very powerful & I've never come near its upper limits for cutting power. It performs well on curves, if you can see the line. The speed control is an asset. I haven't found the straight line laser feature particularly useful.

Here in Britain, it was harder than I expected to find a source for fine T shank blades to fit this jigsaw.


0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't be tricked into thinking this is a travel guide to Laos, 6 Mar 2013
This review is from: Laos (Kindle Edition)
Since I only studied the Free Sample and decided not to buy, I'm reluctant to award a Star rating & only do so because otherwise the system wouldn't permit me to pass on this warning.

Note that according to its own TOC this book does not give any of the guidance round places to visit, which one expects from a travel guide. Note how little you get from the Free Sample, which actually covers quite a large chunk of the TOC. It seems plain that the writer has never visited Laos or he would have somewhat more to say.

Note the very negative reviews by people who did actually buy other books by 'Justin Dodge', which I suspect is a pseudonym for someone who is laughing at his customers.

The Big House: The Story of a Country House and Its Family
The Big House: The Story of a Country House and Its Family
by Christopher Simon Sykes
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars You could not make it up!, 17 Feb 2013
This is a most engaging and astonishing tale - and packed with colourful anecdotes stranger than a novelist would dare to invent. The focus is not on Sledmere House nor its servant community but chiefly on the extraordinary behaviour of a larger than life, eccentric and dysfunctional aristocratic family. It's the post 1850 section, about which more sensational detail is available, which I found most interesting.

It's written - with much affection - by a member of Sledmere House's Sykes family dynasty. It tells of a world where children can build their own giant forts in the parental acres, commission a working guillotine for their French Revolution re-enactments in the cellars, and from their nursery galleries catch whispers of the many bulky skeletons in the adults' closets. It's a tale of vast wealth from this racehorse-mad Yorkshire Wolds estate, utterly feudal power over a community, and one severely dysfunctional father after another. Madness and marriages from hell, sewerage systems likewise from hell, spectacular alcoholism and adultery, heroin and homosexuality, boundless extravagance and appalling parental and marital cruelty - this is the stuff of this everyday tale of Country folk. And somehow the Sykes do each dreadful deed with some original twist which keeps the story riveting to read.

There are many entertaining anecdotes. When a Sykes lord dies in a smart London hotel, the management seek to remove his body in a special hollow sofa, kept for this purpose, lest other guests be alarmed. A guest at Sledmere breaks an antique chair, accidentally and unseen. Terrified of his host's notorious rages, he hides the chair then sneaks downstairs in the middle of the night to chop it up and burn it without trace in the fireplace. There are many tales of a Sykes who's a compelling candidate for Upper Class Twit of All Time. He's the helpless serial victim of endless cruel practical jokes, played on him by super-rich aristocrats whom he hosts lavishly till they bankrupt him.

Yet the saga is told truly with affection. A positive light is cast on family doings wherever possible - though often that's a tall order! I suspect that quite a bit of bad news is held back here about how these Lords of the Manor treated their minions and tenants. Because I know Sledmere, I can tell you that this book glaringly avoids mentioning the notorious `Waggoners' Memorial' to the First World War, which the Sykes have placed on the main road outside Sledmere House. Its depictions of Germans are so brutal that both British Foreign Office and German government unsuccessfully tried to get the Sykes to tone it down. But I'll still give this book Five Stars though. For behind such omissions presumably there lies the very same affection by the author for his family which gives this book a lot of its energy, charm and colour.

The Indomitable Beatie: Charles Hoare, C. B. Fry and the Captain's Lady
The Indomitable Beatie: Charles Hoare, C. B. Fry and the Captain's Lady
by Ronald Morris
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stranger than any fiction, 15 Jan 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
It rivals Jimmy Savile as a British scandal which for decades took place semi-publicly, yet somehow got denied. The `Training Ship Mercury' advertised boarding school education and a "scientific system of character training". Schoolboys chose it and their parents paid the training fees because supposedly in charge was `Commander' C.B. Fry, the ultimate all-rounder sports hero of Edwardian Britain. British Royalty repeatedly visited and awarded honours. In truth, once boys arrived, they were shaved like convicts and subjected to a relentless regime of terror, exhaustion and pain. Ferocious public floggings followed the slightest mistake - or just the arbitrary whim of management. Boys went barefoot in all weather and had to swim in freezing water at night. Some died during `training'. All sorts of harassment routines were devised - deliberately unfair boxing matches, for instance, of the most brutal sort.

This book's author was actually a pupil on the ship, but the book covers very much more than simple description of its cruelties. It's an exploration of how such a school ship from hell could ever come into being - and it's a very strange tale indeed. The book details an earlier Victorian scandal about a wealthy married banker and his under-age mistress and how they dodge prison and trick and bribe their way to stay together. Socially ostracised, they set up this training ship as an enclave where they can forge a new life and redeem their reputations - and raise their growing family discreetly. A glitzy official husband, the famous athlete C.B. Fry, is bought to front the family (amateur sportsmen needed funding somehow!). The ship's regime starts off benign but heads towards hell once the banker dies. His woman, now Mrs Fry, then seeks to prove herself 100% in control of a masculine world through introducing a regime of systematic cruelty - helped by her dreadful daughters. She decorates the venture with Catholic sounding fantasies about the value of pain.

So it's a bizarre, unexpected story with many twists and turns. Generally it's an easy read and often most entertainingly written as it probes the outrageous things which humans can try to get away with. Among the latter is `Commander' Fry's public pose as director in swanky naval uniform, when really he was the merest of figureheads behind his fearsome, much hated wife, who truly ruled the roost.

Unaccountably, somehow the author omits to mention how Hitler Youth visitors once stayed on `Training Ship Mercury'. This occurred after C.B. Fry was asked by Hitler to help forge links with British youth movements. It would be nice to know what the German visitors thought of their experience. For, from this book's account of the `Mercury', life in Dachau, during its early years at least, would compare quite favourably.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 12, 2013 6:46 AM BST

Ten-Thirty-Three: The Inside Story of Britain's Secret Killing Machine in Northern Ireland
Ten-Thirty-Three: The Inside Story of Britain's Secret Killing Machine in Northern Ireland
by Nicholas Davies
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A vital tale to be told - but not the best telling of it, 19 Aug 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Two things are helpful to know from the outset:
· The British government used a High Court injunction to halt this book's publication for a long while.
· The author isn't the same Nick Davies who investigated the Murdochs for the Guardian.

The core charge in this book is that the FRU, a secret British Army Intelligence Unit, worked with Ulster Loyalist terrorists to help them kill some of their own proposed targets and to suggest other people for the same treatment. The FRU would supply addresses and get road blocks and police patrols removed from the chosen route to the murder victim's home.

I have no doubt that this happened. But it is also the case that there are grave problems with this book.

It's often repetitive and sometimes contradictory - as if two separate manuscripts had been merged. Did this result from passages being censored out? Parts of the book employ quasi-fictional reconstructions. These certainly make it livelier but they seem a regrettable choice on a subject like this, where truth is so hard to ascertain.

Also, the book needs much more analysis and discussion. What are the grounds for believing these death squads were authorised from the very top? What was their true purpose? One alleged purpose was to divert Loyalist killers away from killing Catholic non-combatants by making attacks on IRA combatants easier; that's what the FRU foot soldiers were told. Another suspected purpose was simply to assassinate IRA men and suspected IRA allies whom Britain couldn't get at otherwise - never mind protecting Catholic non-combatants. Yet another suspected purpose was to vet Loyalist death squads' own choices of target in order to protect British Intelligence's secret collaborators within the IRA plus other IRA figures whom Britain found useful. This book could do with lengthier analysis about which goal seemed Britain's true priority in helping the Loyalist death squads.

Since this book was published, increasing evidence has emerged about the last function - preventing useful IRA men from being killed. This book does dwell informatively on how the FRU intervened to prevent a Loyalist assassination of Gerry Adams and speculates on his possible collaboration as the reason. But it was written just a bit too early to grasp the large scale of infiltration and manipulation of the IRA by British Intelligence, which is what's now filtering out into more recent writings. One of the murders described in Ten Thirty Three is more recently reported to concern an elderly, non-combatant, retired IRA man whom British Intelligence deliberately framed as an active terrorist in order to divert a Loyalist death squad from its own plot against a high-ranking IRA officer, who was actually a key British agent. So much for protection of Catholic non-combatants.

When a government gets a court injunction to stop publication, you can be sure that something important has been written. It was brave and worthwhile of the author to have struggled and taken major personal risks to get this book published and thus place this scandal in the public domain. Hence Four Stars. But it is most certainly not the last word nor the finest account in this strange and horrible saga.

Cat and Mouse
Cat and Mouse
Price: £3.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can't beat this novel for a memorable finale, 7 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Cat and Mouse (Kindle Edition)
As far as summarising the plot is concerned, there's not much that can be added to the previous reviews without spoiling surprises for readers. And surprises there certainly are.

Suffice it to say that this book contains a remarkable number of separate plots, that the author orchestrates their parallel progress with much skill, and that these plots converge in an extraordinary finale. The latter is tense, protracted, well-narrated and as horrifying and memorable as the climax of De Niro's `Taxi Driver' - though much more thought-provoking through the anguished dilemmas which arise for each participant. What a nightmare situation for each individual to face, each for different and often secret reasons! If nothing else, keep reading so you can understand the threads which converge in the utterly gripping last five chapters.

Some compelling tales from history form the backcloth behind this story. These are tales which largely have been muted in British history books or censored altogether. The extremes to which British Suffragettes took women's struggle for the right to vote, for instance, and the horrors of force-feeding of Suffragette hunger-strikers. The huge armed revolt by the original Ulster Volunteer Force and the help it received from Fifth Columnists within government forces. The underworld of vice and child prostitution serving the Edwardian gentry. The culture of sexual abuse in the British Empire's exclusive boys' boarding schools and the resulting misogynistic homosexuality common among officers in Kitchener's army. The darkest part of `Cat and Mouse' is a double saga of gay revenge between misogynistic militarists of the 1914 warmonger kind. `Cat and Mouse' presents such history with the lightest of touch. There are no heavy-handed passages over-explaining things. Some readers may find a peep at Wikipedia helpful to further illumine real events, like some Suffragette tactics, about which nowadays so many Britons are ignorant.

But while `Cat and Mouse' features such historical issues, they are not its focus. First and foremost it is a novel and about people, a mixture of romance and thriller. First it engagingly explores its characters' very different worlds. Then it carefully brings them together for a shattering conclusion. You won't forget this book!

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