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DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England)
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Selected Poems (Oxford World's Classics)
Selected Poems (Oxford World's Classics)
by Maggie Kilgour
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars NO FRIBBLING, 24 May 2013
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`He died of drink and copulation,
A great discredit to this nation.'

Those lines are actually from a hopeful self-obituary by the composer Peter Warlock, real name Philip Heseltine. Warlock/Heseltine actually died from CO poisoning, quite likely self-inflicted, after a short life largely spent in libraries. The nearest he got to notoriety was on being once arrested for drunkenness in Chelsea: however he did give us a neat epitaph for John Wilmot, second earl of Rochester.

What I am reviewing here is not the poems of Rochester but an edition of these. Rochester would have got five stars from me. The edition also has a lot to commend it. It is a selection, but a good and varied one. It is in modern spelling, thank goodness, and one nice editorial feature is the use of the small circle normally used to indicate degrees of temperature or degrees of proof alcohol to refer to notes at the back of the book. Line numbers are printed with the poems, so the references can be traced easily and they do not fatigue the eye like a plethora of numbers attached to the text. There is also a lengthy and informative academic introduction, but for all its virtues this is where I have the problems.

The editor Paul Davis seems unable to keep to one subject at a time. This shows in the four sub-chapters that he provides, namely Court, Theatre, Country and Church. These are not mutually exclusive issues, the division is artificial and the section on Country in particular has trouble finding anything to say, or at least anything relevant to Wilmot much less to his poetry. More seriously, there is the familiar curse of Introductions, the confusion between literary comment and biography. To put the matter simply, using the poems to illustrate their author is the latter and not the former. Insofar as this Introduction concerns itself with literary issues, it sometimes seems laboured and unperceptive. As one example I do not myself perceive any `gross Eucharistic parody' on page xli, only a standard poetic image, an instance not of the `singular virulence and dynamism of Rochesterian profanity' that Davis has just been talking about, but actually of the lyricism that Rochester's contemporaries seem to have found in his work, and about which Davis has little or nothing more to say. We need not go looking for dirty meanings in Rochester, for heavens sake. When he intends that kind of thing we are left in no doubt.

Taking another instance, what is supposed to be clumsy about R's translation of the opening lines of Lucretius? Apparently that it is more like Latin than like English. What, I wonder, does Mr Davis think of Paradise Lost, twelve whole books of semi-Latinity, as both Dr Johnson and T S Eliot complained. That particular burthen is light so far as I am concerned. What I miss is anything at all about Rochester's prime virtue, the quality of both his diction and his versification. A dreadful stifling fog was already overtaking English poetry, and one does not even need to think of the wince-making texts of many of Handel's oratorios: no less than Dryden could grace his libretto for Purcell's King Arthur with the majestic line
`Foreign lands thy fish are tasting.'
Wilmot's sins were many, but of this kind of vice his verse is conspicuously free, he knows how to use the right word and not the wrong one, and in particular he knows how to end on a good punch-line.

Very properly, there is a note on the text. This is based on the complete edition by Harold Love. Every poem included here is genuine Rochester, so Mr Davis assures us without much elaboration, and I am happy enough to take his assurance. He is sound in principle about textual variants, give or take his innocent discovery that `leaning on one manuscript like Hope on her anchor' is not sound method. I suspect that Mr Davis may not know Housman's Preface to Juvenal (just quoted), which once read is unlikely to be forgotten in what it has to say about decreeing any MS the best MS. Innocence also marks his admission that where Love has had to exercise judgment between several readings, Mr Davis sometimes favours another possibility. What did he expect? That's what textual criticism consists of.

Still, this edition should go a long way in bringing a major English versifier, and I would even say poet, to a wider public. By now we are hard to shock with potty-mouthing or to be excited by it, that left only the spelling as an obstacle to intelligibility, and this final obstruction has now been cleared away. I said above that Rochester knows how to write a punch-line, so I thank him for providing me with an envoi to the review

`But you are tired, and so am I. Farewell.'


Pampers Active Fit Size 5+ (Junior+) Monthly Pack -124 Nappies
Pampers Active Fit Size 5+ (Junior+) Monthly Pack -124 Nappies
Price: 21.88

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars VOTE OF CONFIDENCE, 21 May 2013
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When ordering nappies for a 15-month-old one naturally picks a size 'ahead' of where the infant is at so as to get the maximum value out of the pack of items. That's what I have done with this pack of Pampers, but it is not compatible with sending in a review based on months of experience. The new 30-day Vine review rule was not, I guess, drawn up with babies' nappies in mind.

However -- everything looks and feels all right so far. The one significant complaint that I have seen in other notices concerned some kind of plastic or chemical odour. Even that apparently dissipated after the package was left open, and it does not seem to have been a widespread problem, nor did my grandson's parents encounter this issue. The design improvements as advertised tick a series of right boxes. Add to all this their experience (and probably my own if I could remember that far back) of the Pampers brand, and it all amounts to a feeling of confidence that the new variety is going to be at least as satisfactory as the previous kind was, and probably even more so.

I'm not allowed to wait a few months before submitting a review, but here's a vote of confidence anyway to be going on with.


The Hythe and Sandgate Railway
The Hythe and Sandgate Railway
by Brian Hart
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HYTHE AND SEEK, 20 May 2013
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Anyone with a serious and nostalgic interest in Britain's railway history is likely to want to own this volume. It is a fairly recent production (1987), but it is old-style in its presentation, just the way I like such books. The author has apparently designed his own cover with its old-fashioned block lettering and its oval photo insets with their b/w images of railway scenes long ago. In fact the photos are b/w throughout, and there is not a single image of modern redevelopments over the trackbed or at the station sites. Less specific to an era, but still avoiding modernity, are the local maps and the track layouts at the three stations involved, Sandling Junction, Hythe and Sandgate. The text and images are printed on high-quality glossy paper, and if I have one slight problem with the presentation it is that the print is on the small side. There was a lot of text to accommodate, I guess.

Brian Hart has gone to a lot of trouble over this piece of transport history. Not only do we have the chronicle of this short branch (about 5 miles of it, maybe a bit less), Hart adds in the story of the associated tramway, noting that previous accounts of that leave a lot to be desired. His writing style is clear, and he keeps a steady thread of narrative through the thickets of detail, so that there is a sense of coherence to it all. Probably no two of Britain's many closed rail routes have quite the same story although the factors that led to the closures are few and familiar. However I doubt if any can have had quite such grandiose ambitions as this one. The spur from Sandling off the line to Folkestone and Dover was meant to be the first section of another line to Folkestone harbour, with the longer-term aim of leading to a Channel tunnel. You would know that this was an Edward Watkin show.

For all Watkin's vaulting ambition, not a lot of his railway routage survives. His Great Central main line, engineered to a higher standard than its surviving rivals, exists now only in a smallish passenger system in the Chilterns and also in a short commuter line out of Manchester to the modest Pennine town of Glossop, where it provides me as a resident with an excellent service into my local metropolis and its main-line terminus. Watkin retired in 1894 and died in 1901 and so was spared the pain of seeing the demise of his Great Central system, but he must already have realised, Brian Hart believes, that his Channel tunnel approach through Hythe was, so to say, dead in the water. The story Hart tells us is this: approval was obtained for a line going not quite as far as Sandgate, but actually ending about a mile short of there at the intermediate village of Seabrook. Despite the unsuccessful struggle from the outset to get approval for extending the railway even into Sandgate proper let alone Folkestone, Watkin and the other entrepreneurs were sure that it would all come right eventually, and the magnificent portal of the Hayne tunnel was never intended to say `This is the gateway to Seabrook.' It was the gateway to continental Europe. Twenty years, then thirty, came and went and the opposition from landowners was unwavering. For lack of another three miles or so of wayleave the vision was thwarted.

I suppose it might have been possible to develop tourist traffic into Hythe as another Channel resort, and it did actually expand in the 30's, but Hart does not support this view, and WWII put paid to it one way or another. From the railway company's viewpoint the Hythe/Sandgate spur was unviable, and to buttress this case the station at Hythe had been located at a decidedly awkward site. The burgers of Hythe fought to keep their little line even after Sandgate was closed in the 1930's, but they were wasting their breath and the forlorn Hythe stub was finally closed in 1951. One expedient that was tried was a horse-drawn tramway linking Sandgate with Hythe, and Hart's account of this, supported with superb photography, makes enthralling reading. There were the familiar battles with landowners, this time the fifth and sixth Earls of Radnor, and the system finally succumbed in 1921, as did the hydraulic Sandgate Hill Lift at much the same time, although Hart does not go into much detail of that.

Hythe is of course famous to this day for its surviving railway, the miniature (15" gauge) Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway running along the marshes from Hythe to Dungeness. It is now nearly 60 years since I was last (and first) there, and on a summer holiday the traffic was naturally dominated by visitors. What little Hart has to say about this is so interesting that I wish he had allowed himself a bit more space for it. This railway opened in the 1920's, and what Hart says suggests to me that its clientele is not exclusively tourist and that it is a serious commuter system. For instance, Hart cites the view (without going so far as to endorse it) that if this little line had been extended to the regular station at Hythe it might have overcome the inconvenient siting of that station and actually saved the rail service.

It will not be saved now and Hart adds a solemn quotation, presumably biblical, relating its transience to our own. Just as impressively, he quotes the anguished outburst of Edward Elgar over the fate of the horses taken from the tramway to serve and perish in the WWI trenches. We ourselves are among what Wells calls the beasts that perish I don't doubt. If not may the appropriate authority forgive us for we seem to know not what we do.


Clem Attlee. The Granada historical records interview / (the questions were asked by Denis Pitts. The transcript was annotated by Duncan Crow.)
Clem Attlee. The Granada historical records interview / (the questions were asked by Denis Pitts. The transcript was annotated by Duncan Crow.)
by ltd. Pitts, Dennis. Clement Attlee Granada Television Network
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NEVER ONE WORD WHEN NONE WOULD DO, 18 May 2013
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Margaret Thatcher died just the other day, and suddenly I am starting to hear from different quarters the opinion that there have been two prime ministers since the war who have made a radical and lasting difference - Margaret Thatcher and Clement Attlee. Attlee was described to Churchill as modest, to which Churchill replied `He has much to be modest about.' There can be two opinions about how modest he really was; it seems to me that his achievements were, and remain, far from modest.

This is a review of a series of television interviews, not a political essay, and I am not going to argue the pros and cons of the welfare state, socialism, the Labour Party or anything of the kind. The interviews were done in 1965, and for someone supposed to be laconic, this former prime minister manages to convey more information than any of his successors could do if they took ten times as long over it. It was said of him that he never used one word when none would do, but making allowance for the minimum verbiage possible in a verbal exchange being one word, consider this, and bear in mind that the topic under discussion is Britain's decision to make its own nuclear bomb:

Q: Was it your own decision or was it a cabinet decision?
A: I don't know.
Q: Was there much division in the cabinet about this?
A: No.

Naturally it's not all or even mostly like this, but in reading Attlee's responses I was continually struck by just how clear his mind was. Even when he needs a couple of sentences he packs a lot into them, e.g.

Q: How serious as far as you saw it was the American decision to end Lend-Lease so quickly?
A: Very serious. You see the whole country had been trained for the production of war work and this was really an essential part of the war. I don't think Truman understood it. He thought it was a routine matter. Of course cutting it off like that was absolutely hopeless.

When policies did not work out he attributes simple causes, often saying that he and his government did what they could under such-and-such circumstances. The power cuts of 1947 were due to bad weather (and indeed it was historically bad that winter). Bread rationing in 1946 was because of the world shortage and the need to support India in its famine, not just ourselves. Once only did I spot him admitting to an outright mistake, and that was his appointment of Herbert Morrison as foreign secretary in succession to the great Ernie Bevin. It would have been difficult to find an external cause for that, especially as he says explicitly that in making ministerial appointments he consulted only the permanent secretary in the given department, having learned from experience that any previous errors had come from consulting his cabinet colleagues. Herbert Morrison's grasp of overseas issues probably extended all the way to the Isle of Wight, and this time Clem's own judgment let him down, although he didn't take long to see that.

Once or twice I wish his interviewer had pressed him a bit further. For instance, he says that not only did he make the point strongly to Truman that the Korean war was the wrong war in the wrong place and at the wrong time, but that Truman accepted the point. I would have liked to hear more of that conversation. However he is back at making a few words go a long way when he learns that Gen MacArthur had refused to come home. Any British general who did that, said Attlee to the President, would have received a bowler hat in the next post. He is trenchant but fair in his assessments of contemporaries, including Churchill, whom he admired but who constantly needed a minder. As for his first chancellor, Dr Dalton, who confided some points of his forthcoming budget to journalists before giving them to parliament and was sacked by Attlee on the spot, what did Attlee think? `Perfect ass.' I told you his mind was very clear.

How modest was a guy like this? In my opinion not very. Nobody with this level of self-assurance is properly described as modest. What may suggest the contrary is his relaxed admission that it was no use for him to try to be a colourful character like Churchill, and even more so his statement that he would have just walked off the job if his parliamentary party voted him out - nothing to it, apparently. Near the end the interviewer asks `...what do you think history will judge you best for?' and comes the reply `I don't know.' That's style. Tell me that's not style.


The Witney & Fairford Branch Through Time
The Witney & Fairford Branch Through Time
by Stanley C. Jenkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.64

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BOXES TICKED, 14 May 2013
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This book is just freshly off the presses, so presumably it can be taken as a fair example of the current state of the railway nostalgia industry in Britain. In many ways it is a very attractive production. It is printed on high-quality glossy paper and it contains no fewer than 89 pages of photographs (with accompanying text), two snaps to a page. The photos are what would be expected - some of the railway in its early heyday, some as closure approached, some of the mouldering and derelict remains before the solum was reclaimed for other uses, and some of the way it all looks today or at least looked recently. In addition there are groundplans of several of the stations, and there is a short history of the line, but no description of the journey and even no map. Admittedly the Witney and Fairford railway was an isolated line without branches or connexions except at Yarnton just north of Oxford, but a map serves to show its location relative to other lines, not least the trunk line through Cirencester, which the Fairford extension had been intended or hoped by some to reach.

So it all ticks a lot of boxes. It has a professional air about it, but in the railway nostalgia market professionalism is only partly a good thing. The charm and fascination of much of the copious lost-railway literature of years gone by was precisely its amateur feel. It had an atmosphere, and that is what this new book lacks. Even taking it on its own terms I'm inclined to be slightly fault-finding over the photo selection. Not all of them are terribly good photos, but in fact I don't mind that because in many respects it is all professional enough. My sense is that there are too many photos, almost as if the author and editors were prepared to include any they could find. Eynsham market square and Kelmscott Manor, as examples, are nothing to do with the railway as such. However I wouldn't object to their inclusion if they did not come on top of rather too many how-it-all-looks-now modern shots. Indeed the author seems uncomfortably conscious of a slight problem here when he remarks on `the decidedly nondescript group of buildings' now occupying the station site at Alvescot. I would gladly have traded some of this material for some discussion of the line's links to the RAF bases at Carterton and Brize Norton. Were any nuclear bombs transported on this sleepy rural railway, for instance?

On the face of it, this was not an `exciting' railway, but that is not what creates the fascination of much of the traditional railway literature. I can think of a book on the Findhorn railway, for instance, which I have read and reread with avidity, and the story of that could be nobody's idea of a page-turner. Perhaps I am being too pernickety. The book ticks most of the usual boxes for ticking. What I can't imagine myself doing is treasuring it.


The Boys In The Boat
The Boys In The Boat
by Daniel James Brown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.60

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars REQUIRES STAMINA AND ENDURANCE, 12 May 2013
This review is from: The Boys In The Boat (Hardcover)
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Reading nearly 400 pages of this book, that is to say, calls for stamina: the same is of course also true of competitive rowing. The story-line traces the progress of a University of Washington (the state, not Washington DC) coxed eight through early local contests against their opposite numbers from California, then in national competitions held in New York State, until they are selected for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, gaining gold in their event under the nose of Hitler himself. The narrative is hung round the person of Joe Rantz, who died in 2007, last but one to survive out of the crew of the shell Husky Clipper, designed and built by an Englishman George Yeoman Pocock.

In many ways it is all very well done. Rowing is a sport that arouses my interest only when I have a dog in the race, so to say. These days that comes down to the 4-yearly Olympics and the annual Oxford/Cambridge boat race on the Thames. Nevertheless, Daniel James Brown knows how to make his event reports very readable even to such a reader as I am, totally lacking in either experience or technical insight into the sport. He goes a little deeper than I would expect in the sort of sports reporting that I usually read, which is of Arsenal games plus a few similar highlights of the week. He will occasionally probe the inner thoughts and emotions of some party or other, usually Joe but also the crew coach Al Ulbrickson and certain others now and again. This is done without stretching my credulity, and the storytelling throughout shows exemplary good taste. If anything, the good taste is almost too good. There is never a word about any sexual activities of any of the participants, and my reservations about that are not because I wanted to know but because an entire dimension of life is resolutely ignored.

Not only that, the sporting-narrative thread is very skilfully interwoven with the outline biography of Joe Rantz. Again, this looks at its subject from the outside, but even so there is plenty to tell when we are hearing about the struggles of a youngster with a heartless stepmother and a weak father against a backdrop of the Great Depression and the freakish and destructive weather patterns of the 1930's, conspicuously but far from entirely the great Dust Bowl. Right at the end, the final chapter of everyone's life is sketched in touchingly and with respect and dignity in the expression. However by this time I was starting to have a few problems. In the first place Joe is rather too obviously a kind of coatstand on which to hang a long series of rowing race reports. In the second place there are really an awful lot of these reports, nicely done of course, as I already said, but only telling us what we would expect, namely that it was a series of ups and downs. If the strategy was to lead up to the Berlin Olympics, rather than just to recount a string of successive events, it could have been done more selectively. If, on the other hand, the book is really just a glorified string of reports, then we could have done without the fairly superficial story of Joe, his family and his sweetheart. I have to assume it's the former strategy, but I'm not totally convinced of that because of the loving attention to detail with which the author invests all the umpteen rowing commentaries. He likes that a bit too much, and I was getting weary of it as we approached the Olympics, which surely was going to offer us something different.

Indeed it does. The Nazi regime, in all its foulness but also with its flair for public relations and deception, is memorably evoked, and evoked without mawkishness or laying it on thick. As usual, Daniel James Brown keeps his distance, and this time the effect is all the more telling for that reason. The best is definitely kept for the end, and a very good best it is too. In its way, everything in the book is good. I just feel it could have done with some pruning of the race details so as to provide a sense of crescendo and climax rather than so much repetition of much the same. I reflect that I could have applied a bit more selectivity for myself.


The Mid-Suffolk Light Railway (Locomotion papers;no.22)
The Mid-Suffolk Light Railway (Locomotion papers;no.22)
by N.A Comfort
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars LATE ARRIVAL, 12 May 2013
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By 1900 the best and worst of the railway mania in Britain were over. Few if any ventures that had not got started before the new century stood much chance of success, for the simple reason that they had no business case worth the name. A century later they are further treasures for Britain's self-renewing generations of enthusiasts and antiquarians, largely amateur, who love exploring not only the physical remains of vanished routes but also the literature that can be hard to find but can't be lost so completely. Modern volumes have tended to become glossy and expensive, but I doubt they have the romance that still hangs around some of the older stuff. The b/w photography is all part of the attraction, and so is the very fact of bothering to compose and publish readable research into railways that were used by few in their time and can't expect any mass readership now.

The Mid-Suffolk Light Railway was `opened' (so to say) in 1904 although it was another few years until it carried any passengers. It was meant to connect two trunk railways with alternative western junctions, but it ended as a meandering 25-mile rural ramble finishing in a small village and coming nowhere near most of the other villages whose names were taken for its stations. The story is the usual - financial problems dogged the hopeless venture right from the start and it took WWII to keep it going until it succumbed to the inevitable in 1952. At one point the author says that he is writing ten years after closure, and that should be borne in mind when he finds the station buildings at Laxfield terminus largely intact. However the original price of this little book is in decimal currency, which was not introduced in the UK until 1971. It may be that the book was a few years in the writing, and obviously a lot can happen to abandoned railways in quite a short time. My own solitary visit to Suffolk was about 30 years ago and I distinctly remember seeing the abutment of a bridge over the road we were driving on, three such being mentioned by the author. In fact one surprising thing is how sharp the inclines were in what is usually considered flat territory. What with steep climbs but also innumerable level crossings because of the generally level terrain, it seems that the Mid-Suffolk got the worst of both worlds.

This volume is one of the best written that I have come across so far. You will find the history and a description of the line, together with details of locomotives and rolling stock, and I bet some of that rolled with a vengeance. There is a map, of course, and photographs and timetables, thankfully. I remember as a boy reading about the line's closure. Gone now 61 years, but not forgotten entirely, nor likely to be.


True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny
True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny
by Daniel Topolski
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars BIG DEAL, 9 May 2013
Picture this scene and try to imagine what it is all about. `A lone figure was standing up...balancing like a statue....His mighty arms were raised upwards to the sky, and his face stared in ecstasy into the heavens beyond....Donald Macdonald was alone with his God.' Was Mr Macdonald perhaps a survivor of the massacre of Glencoe? Had he routed the minions of Butcher Cumberland? Well, no. This Mr Macdonald had just won the annual Oxford/Cambridge boat race in 1987.

I have never been sure of the propriety of invoking the help of the Almighty in achieving victory in sport. Does He really tip the balance in favour of whoever prays hardest (assuming that both competitors have kept to the rules and put in equivalent amounts of effort)? That sounds to me like obtaining an unfair advantage. I quite agree that top-class sport is a serious business, but surely there comes a time when obsessiveness over it begins to seem just a trifle silly? Even if we let divine intervention take its own course (and I could think of more pressing priorities for it in 1987) does some - any - annual rowing competition really amount to a matter involving lifelong enmity? I have just read Dan Topolski's memoir of this eventful event with genuine interest and a sense of involvement. In all conscience it was quite a saga and the issues were such as he or anyone would have needed to face with proper seriousness. Nevertheless what kept springing irreverently to mind was a tale of dirty work behind the scenes in the preparation for the vicarage egg-and-spoon race in one of the Jeeves stories, and I experienced an increasing longing to have this narrative retold for me by P G Wodehouse.

The background was that Oxford, perennial underdogs in the boat race, had been coached to a string of victories by Topolski followed by a bad defeat in 1986. A gifted American in the 1986 crew saw salvation in bringing other gifted Americans to Oxford for 1987, and these showed determination to have things done their way rather than Topolski's. Topolski's main ally was the Oxford `president' (sc captain of the crew) Macdonald, and both were opposed with contempt by the new Americans. The imbroglio that followed centred round two matters - the training methods and the tactics used by the `mutineers' to get their own way. Topolski obviously tells it all his way, but he makes what seems a genuine attempt to be fair while remaining convinced that he had it right. As regards the training I am completely unable to judge of the issue. Topolski imposed a gruelling regime, and the Americans did not wish to be gruelled. As regards the `political' battle, Topolski depicts the Americans and their growing band of supporters as taking the stance `if you just capitulate there will be no problem.' How the other camp saw it I don't know, but the picture is at least a familiar one from similar battles in large organisations - a party taking this attitude and then encountering resistance typically acts the victim and alleges unreasonableness, perfidy and character defects to the other side whom it was trying to attack.

The American who set the process off was not the prime mover and shaker as it developed. That was another American, studying at Oriel College, and the epicentre of the shaking is referred to throughout as `the Oriel bar'. From my own considerable experience of that in the previous generation, I'd guess that any brimstonish plotting would have more likely taken place in the Oriel junior common room, the rooms of the various insurgents and the Bear Inn. Oriel was represented particularly strongly among the candidates for a place in the university boat, and to crown matters the headquarters of the crew was, coincidentally, Oriel Square just outside the college gates, so that Oriel came to have a significance for Topolski of something like Mordor.

The revolt grew and gained a large following, and Topolski's picture increasingly becomes one of the saintly Macdonald fighting unscrupulous and implacable opponents, finally winning first the tactical battle of procedures and then the 1987 boat race. The latter triumph was against all odds, as the American stars had been thrown overboard and what was largely an Oxford B crew defeated what appeared to be a particularly strong Cambridge outfit. Clearly, Topolski and Macdonald were justified by results, but the arguments still went on afterwards and the malcontents achieved a minor victory in the selection of the next president, although Topolski's appendix summarising their subsequent history has an unmistakable air of virtue triumphant from his point of view. His tone becomes more biblical as it all goes on, even involving latterly opposing factions from two redoubts of Catholic monasticism. As a closing vignette we hear a brief exchange between the Jesuit prophet of the angels and the organiser of the axis of evil who upbraids the former for being an American who spoke against the American side.

I have no reason to doubt Topolski's version by and large. What I don't really understand is how the revolt got itself so many adherents, although Topolski's simple explanation, namely that these didn't know what they were talking about, could be the simple truth of it. One slight disappointment, considering that Topolski is by career a photo journalist, is the photographs. With each twist and turn of the narrative, I tried to inspect the features of the protagonists, but the selection seems rather random. In particular one picture that ought to have been memorable, of a punch being thrown by a particularly upstanding Englishman at an American cox depicted throughout as odious, fails to depict that in any way I can see. The picture of the American who started it all off rowing in an Oriel boat also puzzled me until I found that he had returned after completing his Oxford course to provide coaching at Oriel, which had not been his college. The upshot was that the Oriel boat, on paper the strongest in Oxford, was knocked out in the first round of its next competition. I lament this from the point of view of Oriel, but I suppose they need to take care who they deal with or it will all end in tears.


Scriabin: Complete Mazurkas
Scriabin: Complete Mazurkas
Price: 11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SPIRITUAL MAZURKAS, 7 May 2013
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Scriabin is a composer that I take to greatly. I have his sonatas played by various interpreters, but his mazurkas are new to my collection and, very surprisingly, I had never managed to hear, or even hear of, Eric Le Van before now. For any music lovers in a similar case, let me recommend both wholeheartedly.

There are 21 mazurkas in total, two long sets of 20 and 19 respectively plus a final two. Starting from the back, these last two are in a style that would be recognised fairly readily as Scriabin's. I could not generalise to quite that extent about the intermediate set, op 25. The very first of these starts in a distinctive idiom unlike the very Chopinesque first book, but Chopin keeps peeping through even in this piece, and his influence remains strong throughout the 19. This is only to be expected, I suppose. The mazurka was a kind of piece that Chopin `owned'. His output contains 50-odd of them, and he did not write that many examples of any other musical form. For me, perhaps the most interesting thing about Scriabin's mazurkas is just how astonishingly like Chopin the early op 3 set, written in the composer's late teens, manages to be. If I did not happen to know Chopin's own mazurka output I would have guessed him for the composer of these 20, except perhaps #6. Other listeners may be more discerning, but I would still bet that quite a few would make the same mistake. It can't have been particularly easy to emulate (not just imitate) Chopin as successfully as this: after all no less than Schumann tried in the Carnaval, and what he produced was a charming little number bearing no resemblance to the sound of his Polish friend. To take over another man's style and produce pieces that are freshly inspired - I'm trying to think of any other instance of that.

Le Van's style of playing does not change appreciably throughout the recital, nor should it in my opinion, whatever he says in his liner note regarding the development of the composer's outlook and idiom. It is perfectly true that Scriabin went to the outer limits in his latter phase, but that was in such works as Vers la Flamme and the Poeme de l'Extase. Transcendental mazurkas, or mystical mazurkas - surely those are contradictions in terms. Mazurkas are deeply personal, but even in their more declamatory sequences they are inward things. The way Le Van plays them strikes me as being about right. His touch is warm, and if I had to think of one of the giants of the recent past for a comparison in that respect it might well be Rubinstein. Le Van's rubato is extensive but in my judgment natural and convincing, and that is what I would have thought if he had actually been playing Chopin and not Scriabin. At a first hearing I thought the recorded sound just slightly over-resonant, and the impression has not been totally dispelled in subsequent listening, but it might suit other listeners down to the ground.

Take a deep breath, or pour yourself a stiff drink, before you start to tackle Eric Le Van's liner essay. I gather he is a writer as well as a performer, and believe me he has the authentic tone for Scriabin in his lengthy comments, which are heady stuff. Inter alia he refers (rightly of course) to `Scriabin's tendency to be perpetually dissatisfied with the existing order'. In fact his mazurkas tell me that he could handle the existing order exceptionally well in his early days, and even not-so-early days. If he has not been your cup of tea up till now, you might find this recital changes your outlook. The advocacy he receives here must be just about as good as it gets.


Smetana: Symphonic Poems
Smetana: Symphonic Poems
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PRAGUE CARNIVAL AND THE PRAGUE SPRING, 5 May 2013
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This has been an unusual and very welcome musical experience for me: it is not often that after sixty years' infatuation with good music I can find a discful of works, by a composer I am particularly fond of, not a note of which I had ever heard before. However my five stars are not just a measure of my delight at a novelty, and I am not suggesting that the set is perfect (however that might be understood). What the rating means is that this recital preserves a performing tradition that can never now be recaptured.

There is no pretending that either the Czech Philharmonic of the 70's or the Prague Symphony Orchestra of 1980/1 was up to the standard of the best western orchestras. They are hearty, committed and heartfelt in this music, which is their own music. Karajan and the Berlin Phil could certainly have shown them a thing or two in matters of refinement and subtlety, but the Czech bands possessed another basis for interpretation, the marrow of their bones, which was of the same origin as the composer's own. The post-war communist authorities in what was then Czechoslovakia had been anxious to preserve their native musical tradition pure of alien influences. Then came Dubcek's Prague Spring, at whose downfall in August 1968 I was myself present as a helpless onlooker. Politically, that reset the clock, but a musical tradition can't survive that kind of thing unscathed. The old way of doing things had been exposed to the open air and had absorbed some of the dreaded western style. This mid-way culture lasted until the iron curtain apparatus finally fell apart, and it had a distinctive sound of its own. And this is what we can hear on this disc, with the three symphonic poems plus a march-number recorded in 1974 and the smaller works dating from 1980 and 1981.

For anyone as unfamiliar as I was until the other day with the symphonic poems, they are early works reflecting the young composer's impressionable enthusiasm for comparable works by Liszt. If that has you dreading the prospect of fifteen minutes of one indifferent tune per piece, be assured it's not like that. Smetana was full of melody. It is also an interesting coincidence that the composition which he later entitled Richard III should have some prospect of arousing fresh interest just as that monarch's remains have been identified positively and are making headlines. The three symphonic poems and the Shakespeare-inspired march come to us from the Czech Philharmonic under Neumann, although it would be interesting to know how the work was seemingly allocated between two recording directors, about whom the back of the box tells us that Pavel Kuhn directed tracks 1-4 while Milan Slavicky shouldered the burden in nos 1,2 and 4.

There is an interesting but distinctly odd liner note which talks as if it had as much space as it could use when it is a matter of the symphonic poems, then has a little about Smetana's projected Prague Carnival, and nothing at all about the Shakespearean march or the short prelude to accompany the laying of the foundation stone for the National Theatre or the two delightful polkas. Except for the march, these come from the Prague SO under two different conductors. The Prague Carnival was apparently to have been a suite along the lines of Ma Vlast, and we are given the prelude and polonaise, although for some reason not two other numbers that Smetana seems to have managed to complete. The recorded sound, like the playing, is a little rough-edged by comparison with what the west was able to offer at that time, but this is where we come to the question What are we looking for in a reissue like this? I know what I am looking for, and it's what I find here and could not even begin to look for elsewhere.


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