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T. D. Welsh (Basingstoke, Hampshire UK)
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Gold Anniversary Clock W2763
Gold Anniversary Clock W2763

4.0 out of 5 stars Looks good although lightly built and inexpensive, 30 Jan 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
When my wife's old carriage clock fell off the mantelpiece and got broken, I scoured the Web looking for a suitable replacement. It turned out to be surprisingly tricky. All I really wanted was a fairly inexpensive clock with a gold look and the essential rotating gold balls under the timepiece itself. Believe it or not, I couldn't find one! Then I came across this product, which fits the bill quite well. It is bigger than our old clock, with a tall (9 inch) rounded cylindrical transparent dome and a relatively high profile. The clock itself is extremely lightweight, obviously all-plastic and presumably driven by a microprocessor; it takes a single battery (AA from memory) and has a single knob on the back to adjust the time. That's it!

The clock looks very good on the mantelpiece. It has kept time reasonably well - gaining about one minute in the month we have had it - and the only peculiarity that you might notice to begin with is that the carriage movement makes a quite audible noise. You might wonder if someone is using machinery down the street, until you come to recognise it; and soon after you will almost certainly stop noticing it altogether.

It would be very nice if the manufacturer had made the clock radio-controlled, so it would always be exactly right. You don't want a clock prominently displayed on your mantelpiece to show the wrong time, nor do you want to spend too much time adjusting it. But at the price, that would perhaps be asking too much at present.


Sony ICF-CD73W AM/FM/Weather Shower CD Clock Radio - White
Sony ICF-CD73W AM/FM/Weather Shower CD Clock Radio - White

5.0 out of 5 stars Very suitable for bathroom use (or elsewhere), 30 Jan 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
While not waterproof to the point where you could safely drop it in the bath, this CD/radio is water-resistant so you don't have to worry about the odd splash. It has a rather unusual shape, which makes it ideal for sitting at the end of a shelf or window sill, up against a wall - and the short aerial provided has a suction cup which (if wetted and stuck to a nice smooth surface such as a tile) stays put for weeks on end. (Failing that, there is always Blu-Tack). The appearance is pleasant in an unobtrusive way, and the controls are well designed - big buttons for easy operation, and big knurled dials on top for the volume and tuning. There is a separate on/off button so you don't need to mess up your volume setting whenever you switch on or off, as well as on/off timer and Auto Off (which switches off in a multiple of half hours depending how many times you press it; 120, 90, 60, 30, or even 0 minutes. You get two FM settings each with five presets, and one AM setting with five presets, which should be plenty for all the stations you want to listen to and can receive audibly. I have never touched the tuning knob since the first day when I chose the presets for my favourite stations. The CD door is the back of the device, which does mean you have to pick it up to open and insert or remove a CD - but that's not a big problem. You can choose between monaural and stereo, and you can change the AM channel step from the North American 10KHz to the European 9KHz. All this is clearly but briefly explained in the instructions, which come on a single large sheet of paper that you can unfold. You will be pleased to hear that this is in English only - none of those telephone directory "manuals" 95% of which are devoted to foreign language versions of the same information.

Four size C batteries (not supplied) are required, although a mains adapter (also not supplied) is available - but you wouldn't use that in the bathroom, as it is both dangerous and illegal. The unit has a little handle by which you can carry it or hang it from a hook or any suitable projection. There is also a detachable cord ("strap") that you can use to hang the radio a little lower.

I have been using this product for exactly a month now (it arrived just before Christmas, as a present to my whole family) and it has given consistently good service. The batteries have shown no signs of weakening, the volume is good, and the sound distinct and clear. On the stations I prefer (Radio 3 and 4, occasionally 1 and 2, and Five Live) we get little or no interference.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 10, 2011 2:30 PM BST


Brown Leather Look and Feel Tall CD Unit ( Holds up to 57 CDs )
Brown Leather Look and Feel Tall CD Unit ( Holds up to 57 CDs )

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really more suitable for DVDs, though it can store CDs too, 13 Jan 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
After searching widely for suitable CD racks to store my overflow of several dozen CDs, I settled on three of this unit. They are tall and narrow, so I planned to stand them side by side and thought I could easily store well over 100 CDs. When they arrived and I got a closer look, I noticed to my disappointment that they do not have any slots to hold the CDs - just a couple of "shelves" dividing the unit into three large compartments. Each of those compartments is ideal for storing nine standard DVD boxes, or a smaller number of boxed sets of course. The DVDs fit in vertically, so they are shelved like books in a bookcase.

If you want to use the unit for storing CDs, however, you have to pile 19 CD boxes on top of one another in each of the three compartments. This will certainly keep them neatly piled up where you can see the labels on the box spines; but it isn't so easy to extract a particular CD or replace it. Because the natural way to fit CDs into the unit is across it (when it is standing upright as illustrated) you might choose to put the unit on its side so it is long and low, and then the CD boxes will be standing upright and would be easier to take out and put back.

That said, the units are quite nicely constructed and look well. For the price, they are a reasonable bargain. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email telling me they would be delivered by a "next day" service, and this pleasure was only slightly diminished when they actually took two days to show up. (The vendor kindly emailed to apologise and explain that a particular pallet had not been collected by the courier service, so this was probably an exceptional lapse).


Mozart: the man and his works, (Doubleday Anchor books)
Mozart: the man and his works, (Doubleday Anchor books)
by W. J Turner
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful analysis of Mozart's life and work, 1 Jan 2011
Walter J Turner (1889-1946) was an Australian poet who, like so many others, came to Britain to seek his fortune - or at least a more favourable aesthetic environment. His poetry is largely forgotten, apart from a few lingering verses such as "Romance" ("When I was but thirteen or so/I went into a golden land/Chimborazo, Cotopaxi/Took me by the hand"). This may be a matter of fashion, as no less a poet than the great William Butler Yeats said that Turner's poetry left him "lost in admiration and astonishment". Turner, who mixed with the Bloomsbury Group and was a close friend of the pianist Artur Schnabel, became a leading music critic and wrote outstanding biographies of Beethoven and Berlioz as well as Mozart. He was an unashamed elitist, who held very strong and sometimes unorthodox views - among which was the opinion, almost unheard-of in the 1920s and 1930s, that Mozart was a unique musical and dramatic talent, comparable only to Shakespeare and clearly superior to such giants as Beethoven and Tolstoy.

"Mozart: His Life and Work" was first published in 1938; the University Paperbacks edition to which this review refers appeared in 1965, when Mozart's reputation had undergone a complete transformation culminating in the worldwide celebrations of his bicentenary in 1956. Turner's opinion, which he does not hesitate to make perfectly clear, is that Mozart was the greatest composer who ever lived, as well as being a great virtuoso of the harpsichord, organ, and other instruments. Turner marvels over the seamlessness and organic nature of Mozart's music; rather than a collection of melodies and harmonies, he argues, it is all one perfect whole that cannot be picked apart. "One may speak often of a movement by Mozart just as a mathematician might speak of a beautiful proposition. Whereas in the music of most composers it is a matter of content and structure, it is with Mozart a case of structure only, for there is no discernible content..." He illustrates this thesis by inviting the reader to compare the overtures to "The Marriage of Figaro" and Rossini's "The Barber of Seville".

Turner starts with Mozart's birth in 1756, and gives us a colourful three-dimensional portrait of his family - especially his father Leopold - puncturing many false conceptions along the way. Although he died 33 years before Peter Shaffer wrote his play "Amadeus" (and a further 5 years before the appearance of the film version), he dismantles some of its key ideas without breaking stride. In absolutely characteristic style, Turner writes, "The idea that Mozart was poisoned by Salieri is, of course, ridiculous. Mediocre men do not need to poison geniuses; they have nothing to fear from them". (Because the mediocre men get all the lucrative posts and commissions, while the geniuses starve in garrets). Describing the events that followed Mozart's death at the age of 35, he notes how "...the wealthy Baron van Swieten made all the funeral arrangements. As if inspired directly by God he arranged for the cheapest burial possible..." As a result, Mozart's body was flung anonymously into a mass grave with 15 or 20 other paupers, and no one ever found it afterwards. "A more fitting end for this great genius could not be conceived," concludes Turner. He is not just expressing bitterness: he actually believes that Mozart's music was so heavenly that only a very few human beings could truly appreciate it. Hence, there was never any chance that he could prosper, or even survive in the long run. From the moment when he left his father's painstaking though stern care, Mozart's life was a story of expenses unmatched by income, of unrepaid loans, of benefactors tapped over and over - not because he was spendthrift, but because he never obtained even one decent permanent appointment. Turner recounts how the King of Prussia offered Mozart such a post, which would have paid an adequate salary; he refused it out of loyalty to the Emperor of Austria, who never lifted a finger to help him in any way.

It would be easy to write many pages about this extraordinary book, but time and space forbid. Suffice it to say that, if you like Mozart's music or feel any curiosity about his remarkable life, you really owe it to yourself to read it. You won't be sorry!


Empire of the Clouds: When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World
Empire of the Clouds: When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World
by James Hamilton-Paterson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.10

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb look back at what might have been, 28 Dec 2010
James Hamilton-Patterson has always been fascinated by jet aircraft, and that certainly comes across in this fascinating and lovingly written book. Whether he is describing the majestic beauty of an Avro Vulcan climbing steeply towards the cloud base, the elegant design of the Fairey Delta, or the sheer terrifying power of the English Electric Lightning, you feel that his words come from the heart. Sadly, as well as a tale of magnificent men in their flying machines this is also a tale of bumbling bureaucracy, pompous incompetent management, obstructive officialdom, and - it cannot be denied - downright contempt for practical expertise. As a result, the British military aircraft industry, which promised so much in the 1950s and 1960s, has now vanished completely. We will never get it back, because traditions and know-how are handed down continuously or not at all.

The author has skilfully woven in a human element by tracing the careers of a handful of the leading test pilots, notably Bill Waterton, Gloster's chief test pilot from 1946 until 1954. In return for a miserly salary that gave him take-home pay of about 1,000 a year (the equivalent of about 20,000 nowadays), and which was barely increased throughout those 9 years, Waterton regularly risked his life flying aircraft that would never be allowed to take off today. He and other pilots flew without ejector seats and often without even parachutes, freezing in unheated cockpits and with primitive controls and breathing apparatus. He was expected to fly - personally - every single production aircraft that left the factory (fortunately not so many as British aircraft manufacturers had not yet adopted mass production), as well as carrying out a mass of other chores including the administration of several scattered airfields! Unofficially, moreover, he was the company's chief salesman, as no one else was half so knowledgeable and respected by customers.

No wonder, in such circumstances, that the great promise of the British aviation industry shrivelled and eventually died. In 1946, Miles Aircraft had built a prototype (in response to a government specification) that was designed to reach 1,000 mph at 36,000 feet. This plane, designated M.52, was ready for takeoff when the same government abruptly cancelled the project. Typically, they insisted that all prototypes and tools must be destroyed! When the Fairey Delta was preparing to break the world air speed record (which it did in 1956, with a speed slightly higher than that planned for the M.52 ten years before) all the tests had to be conducted in France, because of noise control laws in Britain. Dassault, the French company that hosted the Fairey team, thus got an ideal opportunity to learn about state-of-the-art British technology. On at least one occasion, in addition to killing a project and having everything destroyed, the British government actually handed over all the data to the USA - free of charge! It is hard to avoid the conclusion that some people, at any rate, were deliberately trying to destroy British aviation.

It is amazing how much the author has contrived to pack into this book's 270-odd pages. He takes us through all the major jet aircraft projects from 1945 until the 1960s - after which, of course, there were none - and even provides a chapter on airliners such as the Viscount, Britannia, and Comet. As well as the Meteor, Hunter, Javelin, Lightning, and other fighters, he covers the V-bombers at some length. And many other models, quite a few of which never reached production, are described and compared. There are 25 photos in the middle of the book, and a useful index. I received "Empire of the Clouds" as a Christmas present, and had already got about two thirds of the way through by that evening; I finished it on the morning of Boxing Day. If you find high-powered aircraft interesting, you are sure to enjoy reading it - even if some parts upset, annoy, or even enrage you.


Julian
Julian
by Gore Vidal
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Aesthetically and historically superb, but not very exciting, 3 Dec 2010
This review is from: Julian (Paperback)
This is the little-known but stirring tale of Flavius Claudius Julianus, who reigned as sole emperor of the Roman world for less than two years in AD 361-363. Having been born in 331 (or thereabouts), he lived to be just 30 - an even shorter span than Alexander the Great. Moreover, as cousin of the emperor Constantius II, most of his life was spent under the threat of arrest and execution. He never knew whether Constantius would decide to keep him alive, as a potential supporter and successor, or to have him killed "just in case". The career of his older half-brother Gallus stacked the deck heavily against him. (After Constantius made him Caesar in the East and gave him the hand of his own sister Constantina in marriage, Gallus is said to have followed in the footsteps of Caligula and Nero, looting and killing his subjects; when Constantius sent for him he rebelled openly, and was killed). Julian, always a studious and thoughtful youth, much preferred the life of a philosopher and asked only to be left alone to his books, lectures, and conversation. Remarkably, he turned out to be not only extremely cool-headed but also a master military tactician and strategist. When Constantius sent him off to be Caesar in the West (facing an apparently unstoppable invasion by ferocious German tribes) he amazed everyone by utterly routing the barbarians and packing them back across the Rhine. These successes inevitably scared Constantius, who probably started planning to overthrow Julian. Getting his retaliation in first, however, Julian invaded the East and was near Constantinople when Constantius suddenly died of natural causes.

As Emperor, Julian seems to have been astonishingly self-possessed and modest, dismissing hordes of imperial servants and eunuchs and living far more modestly then any of his immediate predecessors - although perhaps his lifestyle was not very different from those of Julius Caesar and Augustus 350 years before. His grand ambition was to roll back the tide of Christianity and restore the worship of the old Roman and Greek gods, but before he could make a start on that he launched an invasion of Sassanid Persia. Despite early successes, he died of wounds sustained in battle - which, it has been rumoured, may have been inflicted by disaffected Christians in his own entourage.

Most of the book purports to be Julian's own journal (or the notes he dictated for it), but it is interspersed with the correspondence between the elderly scholars Libanius and Priscus, who provide context and criticize Julian's views, as well as injecting a little Shakespearean background comedy. It gives a breathtakingly panoramic view of the mid-to-late Roman Empire, just as Christianity was taking hold as the official religion. It soon becomes clear that a large part of Vidal's agenda is to deconstruct Christianity, demonstrating vividly (and sometimes sickeningly) how it was assembled from popular elements of Mithraism, the cult of Isis, and many other religions - and the ghastly mob violence with which its adherents destroyed anyone who stood in their way. The parallel with crazed Islamist mobs, and their leaders, in our own day is much too close for comfort. In contrast, Julian comes across as pleasantly rational and logical, although he did have his own set of pagan beliefs and rituals.

I don't suppose anyone who knows Gore Vidal's work would expect his biography of Julian to be rivetingly dramatic - even though he chose to write it as fiction. For a start, you will find very little in this novel that has not been in the pages of history for nearly 2000 years. So why did Vidal choose the novel format? Presumably so that he could add some intricate "embroidery" around the fixed structure of known facts - mostly in the form of Julian's journal and the letters written after his death by Libanius and Priscus. It certainly isn't a page-turner - more the kind of book that you read 50 pages an evening until you are done. But it is far more satisfying than any thriller, and you will probably find that some of the thoughts it puts into your mind stay there for a lifetime.


Mind Switch
Mind Switch
by Damon Knight
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky but provocative SF novel set in a German-dominated future, 30 Nov 2010
It shouldn't make much difference, but it really does. The action of this novel, first published in 1965, takes place in the year 2170 - in Germany, which apparently dominates the world and has set up colonies on planets of distant stars. Dr Egon Klementi performs an experiment which is supposed to demonstrate time travel, but instead creates "dislocations throughout the continuum". The brandy with which the physicists propose to toast their success turns mysteriously to kerosene (or something similar). In 1970, an entire block of apartment buildings vanishes in Omaha, Nebraska. People and things from those apartments appear in Earth orbit in the year 2369. And Fritz, an intelligent biped from Brecht's Planet, lodged in the Berlin Zoo, changes places with journalist Martin Naumchik after their eyes meet for a few moments. Naumchik finds himself imprisoned in the body of the alien, and all his attempts to prove his true identity are brushed off as animal tricks or systematic fraud. Meanwhile, what of Fritz the biped, whose mind is walking around Berlin in the unfamiliar body of Naumchik?


The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America (Signet Classics (Paperback))
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America (Signet Classics (Paperback))
by Floyd G Cullop
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 2.79

3.0 out of 5 stars Very basic explanation, plus full text of both documents, 29 Nov 2010
This book serves a useful purpose: providing an accessible introduction to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (including the Bill of Rights) - the two fundamental documents of the USA. It also does include the full original texts of both, although you have to look them up - the author's approach is to start with his own explanation, and only then expose the reader (duly prepared, as it were) to the rigours of the actual document. The Constitution, for example, is introduced with the following words: "The Constitution of the United States follows. If you have read this [sic] simplified, explained text carefully and studied the vocabulary, you should be able to understand the Constitution as it was originally written. Try, and see".

The explanatory text assumes very little knowledge - either of history, politics, or for that matter the English language. For instance, the first section on "Words You Need to Know" offers explanations of "subject", "British Constitution", "antiroyalist", "ally", "British Parliament", "charter", "legislature", "dissolve", "sovereignty", and so on. (Incidentally, the explanation of "sovereignty" given is simply "independence", which may strike you as inadequate; the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as meaning "supreme power or authority... the authority of a state to govern itself or another state"). However, the author's approach does fit his goal of making sure that even readers with little education end up with a thorough grasp of the material. I felt rather uncomfortable once or twice when the author seemed to be telling the reader what the words of the Constitution "really mean" (in his own language). But surely that is begging the question? The Constitution says what it says, and if there is any doubt about its meaning it is up to the courts to decide. Then again, there is probably no harm as long as the reader does not take the author's interpretation as Gospel truth.

So if you already know a fair amount about history and politics, this book is likely to be too elementary for you (although it does provide the original text of the key documents). On the other hand, if you are unsure about these subjects or have a limited English vocabulary, you may find it is just what you need.


1960s: Images From the 20th Century (Images of the 20th Century - Getty Images)
1960s: Images From the 20th Century (Images of the 20th Century - Getty Images)
by H F Ullmann
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A panorama of the 60s in hundreds of black-and-white photos, 29 Nov 2010
This is a very substantial collection, which is distinctive for several reasons. Its shape is square, allowing many of the pictures to be the same shape; it is a paperback (but very sturdy); and the text is in three languages (English, French and German). It's quite interesting to go through and see how the English captions translate into the other languages (and spot where the translation diverges from the original). There are nearly 400 pages, each with a single photograph (except for the occasional full page of text introducing each of the 13 sections). Very helpfully, the publishers have added a table of contents right at the back, where you can easily find that particular shot you are interested in. Finding your bearings is also assisted by the division into sections, each on a different topic. The sections are: 1. Movers and Shakers; 2. Conflict; 3. Protest; 4. Entertainment; 5. The Arts; 6. Pop; 7. Fashion; 8. Youth; 9. The Space Age; 10. Sport; 11. Children; 12. Guilt and Grief; 13. All Human Life.


The Fifties in Pictures
The Fifties in Pictures
by James Lescott
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evocative pictures that bring back the 50s, 28 Nov 2010
With 250 pages and as many pictures, this is a substantial volume that takes half an hour to scan through, and much longer to read thoroughly - as it deserves. Those who lived through the 1950s (or some of them) will find their memories sharply stimulated, while those who didn't will inevitably get a measure of insight into what those times were really like. The book is laid out in order of time, starting with pictures taken during 1950 and moving on through each year to 1959. Most are black and white, although there are a few in colour - Sugar Ray Robinson's pink Cadillac, the Shah of Persia's wedding, the Eniwetok H-bomb, Marilyn Monroe (of course), Billy Graham, the Cuban revolution, "Porgy and Bess"... Right from the start you get the authentic feel of the 50s, with another picture of Marilyn Monroe on the cover (attending one of her husband Arthur Miller's plays at a London theatre) and an action study of General MacArthur in Korea as frontispiece. Later, in 1951, we see President Truman as he announced MacArthur's dismissal.

Naturally, for such a pivotal decade, there is a background thread of politics and war. We see Joseph Stalin's coffin being carried to his funeral, and Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation. Winston Churchill returned to power as Prime Minister, and Margaret Hilda Roberts married Denis Thatcher. The French were in trouble in Indo-China, while the Mau-Mau rebels were giving the British problems in Kenya. Also illustrated are the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet occupiers and the Cuban revolution that swept Fidel Castro to power. Alongside pictures of the Korean War, we see disgruntled shoppers in Britain gazing in disgust at their weekly meat ration (postwar austerity continued until 1954). It wasn't all gloom though, as witness several photos of the Festival of Britain in 1951. Preserved for posterity is the astonishing sight, at this same Festival of Britain, of a Ku Klux Klan parade - complete with hoods and burning torches!

Some shots arouse unlooked-for emotions, such as the one of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg kissing passionately before being sentenced to death on charges of spying for the USSR. On the other hand Burgess and Maclean, the British spies, look like any other privileged young university graduates of the time. The supine profile of a woman struck down by polio, and kept alive by an "iron lung", strangely mirrors that of Eva Peron lying in state after her death. Although he was not to rise to fame as US President for several more years, we see Jack Kennedy in an informal pose with his new wife Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.

Progress, whether in sport, exploration or technology, was a keynote of the 1950s. Roger Bannister is shown breaking the 4-minute mile, and the great Czech runner Emil Zatopek winning one of his three gold medals at the Helsinki Olympics. Hillary and Tenzing pose, fresh from their conquest of Mount Everest. World motor racing champion Juan Fangio sits at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo after winning yet another race. The De Havilland Comet and the Boeing 707, the first intercontinental jet airliners, are caught in flight; and the SS United States appears on her way to harbour after capturing the Blue Riband by crossing the Atlantic in 3 days, 10 hours, 40 minutes.

Movies represented include "All About Eve", the original "Sunset Boulevard" with Gloria Swanson, "Rashomon", "Los Olvidados", "Cyrano de Bergerac", "An American in Paris", "The African Queen", "A Streetcar Named desire", "Limelight", "Singing in the Rain", "Ben Hur", "Porgy and Bess", and others. In one of the few openly comical shots Marlon Brando receives his Oscar for "On the Waterfront" from Bob Hope, who apparently prefers to keep it for himself.

I have only mentioned a few of the hundreds of photographs in this excellent compilation from the 1950s. It will still be able to surprise and interest you when you take it down from the bookshelf for the fifth, tenth, or twentieth time.


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