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DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England)

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Is the EU Doomed? (Global Futures)
Is the EU Doomed? (Global Futures)
by Jan Zielonka
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars POOLING TOGETHER AND PULLING APART, 3 Aug. 2014
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`The crisis of the EU has generated a plethora of articles, but few books so far' says Professor Zielonka, so he tries to compensate this lack with what he calls modestly `an essay', 114 small pages of it. As an essay it is rather brilliant. As analysis and prediction I'm not so sure. For striking imagery I recall `institutions have a very long half-life, even when they are not working'; and as incisive perception I am not going to forget `The EU's legitimacy rests primarily on efficiency, not democracy or national identity.' To use a duller image of my own, that hits the proverbial nail. More or less everyone was in favour of the EC or whatever it used to be called simply because nobody was interested, something that Zielonka fully acknowledges. So long as it kept delivering goodies that was all that people wanted to know: they couldn't even be bothered voting in Euro-elections. Come an economic crisis and the shortcomings of the EU impinged on people's consciousness. In hard economic times nationalism can be relied on to flare up. That happened, the EU has become a convenient scapegoat for the so-called sceptics, sc outright opponents, and the rise in what calls itself nationalism is really a surge in xenophobia.

We should all know by now, and someone from Zielonka's background should be more aware than most, just what xenophobia in Europe can lead to. Zielonka is far too short-term in his thinking here, and I would call this the major failing in the book. It is all very well putting together a complacent little analysis of current German intentions and concluding (rightly, I dare say) that there is no obvious threat from that quarter. That is not the only quarter it could come from, and if one thing more than all the rest put together justifies the original European vision it is the simple but profound conviction that what we need is a unifying force to keep Europe united in the face of crises that may blow up. It's Mr Rumsfeld's Unknown Unknowns. I like Mr Rumsfeld no better than Professor Zielonka does, but whatever he was, he wasn't stupid.

In case I am giving any impression that Zielonka himself is some variety of nationalist, let me make clear that he is anything but. He sees quite clearly that national identity is not what it was, and as another example of a good thing well said let me quote `Sovereignty is a meaningful concept only when a state's legal-political borders overlap with its market transaction fringes, military frontiers and migration traits. This has not been the case for quite a while.' Indeed not, and it ain't going to be either, whatever waffle we get from UKIP, Mme Le Pen and the rest of them. As I write this review we are just over a month away from a referendum in Scotland on proposed independence from the `United' Kingdom. Polls indicate that the Nationalists will lose, although I don't need telling that polls can be wrong. They can be right too, and usually are, and if they are my own conclusion is that although the Nats have the all the poets and folk-singers, in the last resort it's the economy stoopit, as another insightful American politician remarked (in his own accent of course).

Still supposing that the Scottish referendum dismisses separation, it will be treated (quite fairly in my own view) as a strong indication that there is no necessary salvation to be found in decentralisation. Put simply, some things are always better centralised, and any diluted form of national definition still needs laws and someone with the authority to pass them. Another thing to note about the Scottish independence proposals is that they are rather 'independence-light'. It is intended to keep the monarchy, keep sterling, stay in the Commonwealth, stay in the EU even! So whichever way the vote goes the difference may turn out to be less than we are being led to think, and that perception is echoed in Zielonka's well-posed question (regarding some hypothetical `in-out' referendum in Britain on EU membership) regarding what `out' will mean exactly. Maybe not all that much in the event.

Somewhere around this stage in the argument Professor Zielonka begins to suffer a touch of wheel-slip. He is perfectly right to note that there is strong and growing influence from non-government actors, but he gets a bit carried away with this exciting discovery, which is not all that new or radical, it seems to me. It comes with globalisation to a great extent, but the very mention of that word also shows that there is a strong and necessary tendency to harmonisation of standards and pooling of resources. It's a two-way street, and at least one of the good Professor's examples is achingly ill-chosen. He seems impressed by public/private commercial initiatives, and, again he is entitled to be impressed up to a point. However it would be wiser not to generalise, and I recommend the Professor a close study of the exposes of the London Underground venture and several hospital trusts provided over years by that admirable publication Private Eye.

Considering how many good and memorable expressions there are in this short book it is a crying shame that he has chosen for his motto a concept that he calls `neo-mediaevalism'. This, I suspect, is going to get hung around his neck. Regionalism, devolution, franchising and common-interest groups are hardly anything novel, after all. They were here to stay before Zielonka wrote a word, and their advance will come through their own inherent momentum, unaided by the banner with the strange device `Neo-mediaevalism'. Another perception that is not new, but which is uncomfortably hard for the sceptics to wish away, is simply that the EU is too big to fail. It needs a good boot up the backside to reform its pompous rigidity and get in touch with its public. Change the name by all means, if that helps.

Rachmaninov: Piano Sonatas (Nikolai Lugansky)
Rachmaninov: Piano Sonatas (Nikolai Lugansky)
Price: £15.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A KNOCKOUT, 1 Aug. 2014
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This is superlative. It is a winner all the way, and if I were to ransack the dictionary for hyperbolic expressions of commendation I doubt I could add anything significant to this simple statement. First I should probably note that the recording dates from 2012, when Lugansky would have been 40. That offers us a pianist in his prime and the chance of first-class up-to-date recorded sound. The sound is as good as I think I have yet heard, at least for piano sound. The instrument must be an 8-foot or 9-foot grand, and nothing less will do for Rachmaninov. So much for the instrument: what is then required is a player equal to the potential it offers.

Is this player, at long last, the giant we have been waiting for? Two sonatas by Rachmaninov, however magnificent the rendition, are not enough to confirm such a view, but good heavens they are sufficiently testing to offer us encouragement. Lugansky's technique is monumental, but these days the kind of finger-athleticism that in a previous generation was possessed only by Horowitz, Cziffra and Michelangeli seems to be the common property of dozens, scores and hundreds. An impression of sheer size is needed too, very much so if we are to talk about a 'giant'. And as well as size, the musical personality needs above all distinctiveness. That was Serkin's criterion: he possessed it in a big way, so did Horowitz and Richter and Michelangeli and Gould, and of course so did Rachmaninov himself as a player.

On any box-ticking basis Lugansky ticks them all with seeming ease. His tone is magnificent, and he never 'goes through' it or produces anything approaching an ugly sound. He shows terrific control in building a crescendo, and what impressed me in particular was just how high he can go on building it. Nor is his touch monotonous in the slightest. Quiet passages are played with sensitivity or sparkle, depending on the kind of quiet passage. Even in the most powerful sequences the clarity of the inner parts recalls Horowitz himself to me. Tempi seem fair and appropriate all the way through. Above all there is a sense of occasion about each sonata, something that the stature of the works themselves calls for. So would I recognise Lugansky if I heard him again? I need to hear more from him, but I am already hopeful.

The two sonatas don't amount to a disc bursting at the seams, but what would be a 'filler'? The Prelude in C# minor? Something by Liszt? Fur Elise? The whole notion of a filler just detracts from what this recital is, namely a major occasion. There is a liner note providing some useful information about the music and the background to its composition, as well as some standard puffery about Lugansky himself. It is also something of a rare treat to be given the first sonata. Rachmaninov (like Schumann) is largely treated by concert and recital schedulers as if he had only composed one sonata. Anyone completely new to the first sonata has rather a special introduction to it here. The liner note is brief about the alternative versions of the second sonata, mercifully so as the issue is my idea of a complete yawn. It is a magnificent work in any of the (slightly) differing versions. There is also a 'programme' to the first sonata, which leaves me equally apathetic. Playing like this reveals the stature of the music without any of that. It also excites me regarding what may turn out to be the stature of the player.

Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux
Rachmaninov: Etudes-Tableaux
Price: £5.96

4.0 out of 5 stars IS IT THE MUSIC OR IS IT THE PLAYER?, 27 July 2014
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This is good, in places very good, but it ought to have been better than it is and I'm searching for the reason or reasons for that. In general, I'd say that the etudes-tableaux are on much the same level of inspiration as Rachmaninov's preludes are. However none of the etudes-tableaux is a complete knockout like the Prelude in B flat. It might be unreasonable to ask for that again, so I would not come to this recital expecting it to provide what is not there in the music. What's there is fine stuff anyway, and given the right performance this could be a thriller of a disc.

There are thrills here and there, certainly. The very start is downright superb - this is all the way my idea of Rachmaninov, but sad to say it turns out to be the best thing among the 17 pieces. The other performances that run this one close are those that call for something like the same sort of piano-playing - rhythmic, powerful and boisterous. Let me mention, honoris causa, the E flat in track #6, the B minor in track #12 and the E flat minor in the next track, then the last number of all, providing a fine wind-up, but perhaps especially the A minor op39/6 on track #14. The menacing upward rushes in that are impressively done, making the performance an event. An event is exactly what the performance of any piano piece by Rachmaninov should be; but that's any, not just some and not just some kinds. Straight after the fine start comes the C major job with its jangling-sleigh-bells effects. Ovchinnikov does it well, but I have it done by Horowitz too, and there's not much comparison. Elsewhere throughout the recital I had the unsatisfactory sense of listening to just some Russian composer, say perhaps Medtner except that he couldn't find a tune if it jumped up and bit him. Rachmaninov demands more than that: there should be no doubt regarding the authorship of so much as one bar on this record.

Ovchinnikov was awarded joint silver medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, in a year when the gold was withheld. On the strength of what I have been listening to here I would say that was probably about right. Maybe after all I have to get Richter to play these difficult pieces for me. The trouble with getting Richter on the strength of reviews is that you can never believe the reviews. The Richter bandwagon left sense and rationality behind it for years, and people who should have known better and who should have been ashamed of themselves chased after him, ecstatically finding wonders they had been told to find, both when they were genuine wonders and when they were plain average or less. However at least with Richter there is always the chance, and I suppose I ought to take it. After all Richter once gave the performance to end all performances of the Prelude in B flat.

Laidlaw (Laidlaw 1) (Laidlaw Trilogy)
Laidlaw (Laidlaw 1) (Laidlaw Trilogy)
by William McIllvanney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars McCHANDLER, 27 July 2014
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This is my first detective story that has been able to take Chandler on at his own game. I mean the game of smart-alec dialogue and throwaway comments. Very few writers of detective fiction have escaped Chandler's influence, and it seems we are into a second generation of them, because there is a whole school now of `Glasgow noir' authors who appear to be taking their cue from William McIlvanney in his turn. Even leaving aside Ian Rankin (Edinburgh) or Peter May (the outer isles) just think of Denise Mina, Craig Robertson, Craig Russell, Gordon Ferris and Malcolm Mackay. These focus on the unique and hypnotic city of Glasgow in much the way Chandler focused on L A, but none of them try so blatantly to challenge Chandler for what once made him unique. `Where did you get your gear anyway? The Plain Clothes Policeman's Stores?' or `That stare was about twenty years of marriage and it was carrying more complicated traffic between them than the M1.' McIlvanney is his own man, he has enough of his own to say not to just mimic Chandler, but the idiom is unmistakeable.

The story is written in the third person. This is wise, not least because Laidlaw is a far more complex piece of work than Philip Marlowe was. Part of the setup cries out `trilogy', too. Laidlaw has a young, ambitious and thoughtful assistant called Harkness and a bitter and disapproving career-rival called Milligan. Milligan disapproves of Laidlaw for being a maverick and Laidlaw canny thole Milligan for being a plod. This will remind British TV viewers of Inspector Jack Frost in David Jason's immortal enactment. That was a series, this is a trilogy, (it has all happened by now before I even heard of it), I don't do trilogies as a rule, but I sense I am going to try at least the second number from this one (the opening pages from it are provided unnumbered as a taster following the end of the novel proper in this edition) and it is quite possible that this might be my first trilogy since The Lord of the Rings half a century ago.

There is a certain amount of psychobabble, and it is central to the portrayal of Jack Laidlaw. How persuasive you will find that kind of stuff I am just not in a position to guess. Without being some Milligan about it, one might find the sudden swerve in the portrayal of the dead young woman's domineering father, once confronted with the killer he was sworn to kill, just a tad unconvincing. I find it unconvincing myself, not least because the early portrayal of a mindless Glasgow bigot was so believable in the first place. Also the portrayal of the young killer, when we get to meet him for the second and last time after the whole book has intervened, is a bit sketchy and question-begging considering the issues involved. However there is a very interesting issue in particular regarding how the plot is put together.

This is not a whodunit, quite the reverse. We know who dun it after just a few pages, and the element of detection is concerned with the processes by which Laidlaw and Harkness take the evidence apart. I have no problem with any of that - it is just as interesting as an Agatha Christie plot, and in fact it represents a conspicuous advance on Chandler himself, who admitted candidly that he started his stories without knowing who the guilty party was. Something else that is very interesting is the cast-list of the narrative. From my own point of view there is the special interest that the killer was actually called Bryson, which is a lowland Scottish surname of moderately common occurrence in Glasgow and thereabouts. That's just a detail: what is striking is the restricted ethnic makeup of this tale, published in 1977 which was the heyday of the Taggart series on TV. There is no `ethnic' quota whatsoever (ditto Taggart), even though Glasgow had had an established and middle-class Pakistani community for decades by then, together with a proportion of eastern European immigrants that would raise storms of protest now. Above all, Glasgow is almost half-Irish. McIlvanney is itself an Irish name, but if I recall rightly the only Irish name among the characters is Milligan.

The story is very readable, provided you can get the hang of the Glasgow pronunciations, which are very accurately reproduced. The characterisation is clear and convincing, provided Laidlaw himself makes sense to you. We are given a few sidelights, particularly the onset of migraine, something I remember from boyhood, although I have never had a headache (hangovers excepted) since age 16. One oddity was the brief affair that Laidlaw conducts. This seems unconnected entirely with the rest of the story, and I would have liked to be told the reactions of Harkness when he found his middle-aged and married boss was having legovers with the hotel receptionist.

Laidlaw has come into my own little world late, together with his creator. I don't know their subsequent story, but if this is anything to go by it surely must be a good one.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 2, 2015 12:08 AM GMT

Richard Strauss: Orchestral Works - Complete Edition
Richard Strauss: Orchestral Works - Complete Edition
Price: £21.40

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FAREWELL AND HAIL, 23 July 2014
Long long time ago, I can still remember, Rudolf Kempe brought us the orchestral works of Strauss on disc when the composer was only a few years dead. I think that was in the late 50’s, but I can be a lot more precise about two recent dates. 11 June 2014 was the 150th anniversary of Strauss’s birth, and within a few days of that David Zinman stepped down as chief conductor of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, which position he had held for twenty or so years. As a monument to both here is a fitting successor to Kempe, a seven-disc set of Strauss’s work, thoughtfully selected, every disc of which can stand comparison with the best available. The price may fluctuate a little with availability, but if the odd $ or £ is that important to you I’d bet that the price will drop again to its level of early 2014.

Don’t take the legend ‘orchestral works’ too literally. The tone poems are here together with the Domestic and Alpine Symphonies, Aus Italien and the early E flat serenade for wind, but there are two outright concertos also, both the late oboe work and the ‘Parergon to the Domestic Symphony’ which can properly be called a piano concerto, and a small early ‘romance’ with a cello solo. Also here because it would have been a crime not to include it is a new performance of the celestial Four Last Songs. Among the tone poems there is one, Macbeth, that may need a word of introduction. It is the earliest of them, it is not the best of them, but does it have to be? I know the others by heart and have done for years, there are many music lovers in my position, but here is an interesting and unfamiliar extra, not yet fully characteristic (like Bartok’s Kossuth from ten years or so later) that I for one look forward to getting to know.

The recordings (DDD obviously) were done in the years 2000-2, and they are to the best modern standard. The job of the recorded sound generally is to convey the richness and outright lushness of Strauss’s sound. This is done admirably, but where lushness and whatnot is the last thing required, in that elfin little masterpiece the Oboe Concerto, the technicians have responded to perfection again. The thing that impressed me most was the clarity of the inner parts, achieved without any sacrifice of fullness in the tone. Zarathustra has a fugue, for heavens sake, and the recording has coped even here. Strauss was one of the greatest of all orchestrators (pace Beecham) and his coloration and ‘effects’ have to be done justice too. My own prize exhibit is the start of the Alpine Symphony. The opening bars have to be awesome, inspired I have no doubt by the start of Balakirev’s Tamara (hear Sinaisky’s performance to get the idea), the great opening out into the dawn has to be achieved with a natural sense and no impression of manipulation, and that is how it all happens. However more relies on the director and the performers, and everyone seems to be on top form. Long ‘seamless’ compositions like these involve frequent and subtle changes of expression, tone, tempo and style. Zinman seems to have total command, and again if I have to put up a favourite instance it has to be Till Eulenspiegel, with some marvellous fleetfooted runs as the miscreant makes several getaways until the Magistrates seize him at last. I remarked to myself on the graceful delivery of the Magistrates’ little melody at its first occurrence, but what was still in wait for me was a superb sense of matters getting almost out of control until the tune weighs in again and puts a stop to Till’s Merry Pranks, with some very impressive sustained ‘tambourine roll’ effects getting added to the sound-picture.

Another high spot for me was the start of Zarathustra. This is done exactly as I seem to remember the version used in the film 2001 A Space Odyssey (Karajan? Do I recall?) and that has ever since been how I have wanted it done. I shall also say without intending dogmatism that this is quite the finest and most affecting Metamorphosen that I have ever heard. I would be prepared to go as far regarding Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel except that I have not a hope of recalling all the performances I have heard of those and so can’t make a sustainable comparison. In fact the more I think about this set the more gems come back to me. This is a Heldenleben, for instance, to rank with Beecham’s, the last thing that mighty maestro ever recorded and one of his most impressive readings. The Domestic Symphony is again very fine. It doesn’t quite displace my special favourite, the Naxos disc from Wit. That has a cosy comforting feel that I personally love, but if you find it a little o-t-t then Zinman may be more to your taste. Do I have no criticisms at all? Maybe just one. I like the lively and alert performance of the Parergon, but I am ultra-pernickety about the trills at the start. In this performance they are good, but for me good is not enough – I want ‘good as Gould’. Every top-flight pianist can play trills like Gould when he or she can take the trouble to, but sometimes I want that technique sustained as Gould always did.

The liner is an absolute model of its kind, with informative and intelligent comment translated into good English from Jens Markowsky’s German, as well as background material on orchestra, conductor and soloists. The seven envelopes are made of stiff board, with the discs neither liable to fall out unintended nor resembling a recalcitrant dog refusing to exit its kennel. A fine envoi to the career of one maestro and a worthy celebration of a great composer’s memory.

The Last Places On Earth: Journeys in Our Disappearing World
The Last Places On Earth: Journeys in Our Disappearing World
by Gary Mancuso
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.65

5.0 out of 5 stars FROM WEST L.A. TO EVERWHERE ELSE, 19 July 2014
This is a long book but it is a very readable one and extremely well written. Travel narratives don’t appeal to me for the most part, because when a well-heeled westerner drops in on ‘primitive’ cultures it is very hard to stop the story from seeming patronising and voyeuristic. I feel I should absolve Gary Mancuso from the first charge, but the second? – this sort of thing rather gets up my nose whoever writes it, be the author Paul Theroux or, sadly, Gary Mancuso himself:

‘Loud sing-song dances would break out: whistles blowing, drums beating, women in long grass skirts shaking their bare breasts, high headdresses of colourful exotic bird feathers undulating in the air.’ Ethnic people being dead ethnic like, you know.

However the fluency of the narrative carried me along with it, and I am very glad that I made it to the end because the final chapter, Gary’s summing up of his thoughts and reactions, is very much the best thing in the book. Any hint or suspicion of liberal platitudinising about the danger to the environment earlier on is effectively set aside, and there is some strong and eloquent thought expressed that should help the rest of us who like to pose as environmentally-minded to get our brains into gear and do some fresh practical thinking of our own.

Gary’s final advice to us if we want to see more of what he has seen is ‘go do it now.’ He does not suggest that we should panic about the destruction being carried out in the name of wealth-creation, but there is no way that he or anyone else can feel anything but anxiety on that score. The story of Madagascar in particular, with its wonderful and unique local wildlife and its corrupt and cynical local functionaries and commercial vandals, filled me even more than usually with impotent rage, not because it was news to me but because of the skill, clarity and effectiveness of the storytelling. The scope of the great documentary is wide: this author has been just about everywhere, and he is not averse to political comment when it would have been almost dereliction of his duty if he had avoided it. We hear how Chavez crashed the economy of Venezuela, how Thaksin’s appeals to populism seem to have done much the same in Thailand, and above all we hear about conditions in North Korea. Mancuso is eloquent again about the tour guides – they know they are lying, you know they are lying, and they know you know they are lying. The book went to press before the accession of Kim Jong-un, but nothing much seems to have changed, although this ribald supremo was educated in Switzerland, so you might have thought he would have learned something. Who, if anyone (himself included) does he think might not be lying? I wondered.

By his own admission, Gary Mancuso is a compulsive traveller. He sacrificed his marriage to his compulsion, for one thing, but whatever else was jettisoned along the way his funds never ran out nor is there any indication that they are ever likely to. Towards the end I found myself wondering how many hours there can possibly be in this guy’s 11-day week, because he lets drop the admission that he has been here there and just about everywhere that could not make it on to the 400-odd pages that the book is limited to. In a minor way, I can recognise the urge in myself, and I suppose the expected readership will consist not only of armchair travellers who like to have it all described for them but also of some whose itineraries have coincided at times with the author’s. In fact I was in Guilin in Sichuan Province just a month ago, and a few years ago I too was taken for the tea ceremony in Beijing, and no doubt fleeced in the process. I agree that Guilin is marvellous, but I felt that Mancuso is a little harsh on Puno, the city bordering Lake Titicaca in Peru. A year ago I also travelled there from Cusco on the Andean Explorer train, and it is a fine journey if you can stand a train journey (first class and comfortable) for 10 hours or so. As for the detritus along the way, I saw it at the stopping-places, notably Juliaca. Here the train crawls along between two rows of small shops and market stalls, and the rubbish is just left everywhere, a visible and tangible sign of what is happening intangibly and invisibly all around us, even to the beach on Easter Island apparently. Should I mention that I even know West L.A., indeed that it is almost my second home?

Naturally there is some personal detail, but it is mainly concerned with details of how he felt at times, the accommodation he found, various injuries and sundry conversations. He is laconic about the progressive breakdown of his marriage, and he is downright coy about his sexual encounters, all apparently after the marriage failed. Well, I’ll believe him. There was Vanessa, and there was Indah, and there was a 40-year-old who doesn’t even rate a name, but apparently there were others as well. Details, details, I must conclude, less likely to make it into print than the numerous accounts of small attempts at robbery that are recounted with no little vividness.

I even felt some surprise at my own decision to give the book all five stars. I am not a fan of travel books, as I admitted at the head of this review, but I should not let that sway my attempt to give a fair rating. I don’t deny that the last chapter at least, and probably some other sections of the book, jogged my environmental conscience, and perhaps it will all have a similar influence on others who have wider influence where it matters.

4 packs of Nature Babycare Maxi PULL-UPS (4 x 22 pull-ups) Size 4
4 packs of Nature Babycare Maxi PULL-UPS (4 x 22 pull-ups) Size 4
Offered by Beaming Baby
Price: £35.99

5.0 out of 5 stars WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE?, 16 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Whether such a thing as The Perfect Nappy exists in a world of highly variable infants must be doubtful in the extreme. I'm prepared to give all five stars in a review to a commodity that ticks certain right boxes at the theoretical level and that also receives consistently (not invariably) favourable comment from the parents of the not-yet-fully-articulate users themselves. This set of size 4's satisfies both of those requirements, my own 2-year-old grandson does not seem to be having any problems with his new underwear either, so five stars it is.

The theoretical considerations were a matter of the environmental quality of the nappies. Nappies have been 'disposable' for a long time now, but the disposal was far from permanent in general. This particular brand has obviously been created with kindness to the planet as well as to the wearer in mind, and I have to applaud that. Let me wish the brand every success commercially.

The Railways of Glasgow: Post-Beeching
The Railways of Glasgow: Post-Beeching
by Gordon D. Webster
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.88

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars CHECKPOINT, 1 July 2014
It is now 50 years since The Reshaping of Britain’s Railways was issued by Richard Beeching, and we are on the point of seeing the 2014 Commonwealth Games opened by Her Majesty in Glasgow. A good time therefore to take stock of the current and developing scene on Glasgow’s railways. Gordon D. Webster has produced a book that is very interesting and very good in several ways, although not what I would call a classic. It does not quite belong in the category of railway nostalgia literature, although there are plenty of longing lingering looks behind. The book’s layout is simple and clear. Webster first looks at the network geographically, then he considers the types of traction and traffic, then there are chapters on depots and signalling. A separate chapter is inserted on the Subway, I’m pleased to say, and the book finishes by looking at the effect of the Commonwealth Games on the railway scene, with a final summary of The Railway Today that looks forwards as well as looking around.

So far so good, and I personally like the style of writing. It may seem an odd sort of compliment to say that it is not too professional, but it’s as a compliment that I mean that. Railway literature (as distinct from the various up-to-date magazines) is dominated by the nostalgia market, and is largely written by well-informed amateurs. It has an atmosphere about it that is something close to a drug in the effect it has on its large sentimental readership, and outright professionalism simply kills this atmosphere. I would certainly not call Webster amateur, but he has got the hang of the idiom, whether by design or (more likely) by being steeped in the kind of books I was talking about. Photographs are the lifeblood of railway books, and there is a good quota of them here. There is an 8-page insert of colour jobs, but the narrative is interspersed throughout with b/w shots loosely related to the text as it goes along. Well done again. That’s the way to do it.

I don’t want to challenge details in the text, partly because the author’s research has been far more thorough than anything remotely qualifying for that name that I have ever done, partly because I saw next to nothing that I wanted to dispute from my own knowledge such as it is. However the last chapter may bear a little scrutiny. Webster’s general conclusion that the Glasgow rail network has survived pretty well the slash-and-burn onslaught that Beeching launched on it is just and reasonable. (Really Scotland in general displays a very encouraging picture of railway restoration.) In that case what is meant by the limp envoi ‘so the legacy of Beeching lives on.’? The legacy of anything that happened 50 years ago lives on, I guess, but it’s clear that Webster doesn’t think that the spirit of Beeching lives on, and I’m happy to agree with that. Railways have been reopened in and around Glasgow, but sadly I sense a threat over the Stranraer route (on which I have never myself travelled.) Stranraer was once approached by rail both from Glasgow via Ayr and Girvan, and from London itself via Carlisle and a nostalgist’s dream of a cross-Galloway line with stops named after villages several miles distant. The latter could not be justified from any economic viewpoint, but what is now a real danger is that the ferry crossings to Belfast and Larne, long served from Stranraer Harbour, have been switched to Cairnryan, further up Loch Ryan and on the opposite bank. The reason for this, I fear, is that Cairnryan is served by a major arterial road, and this, not rail, has been seen as the main source of ferry traffic. By one of those ironies, Cairnryan actually had a rail link built during WW2, but nobody is talking about that now.

It’s right at the end, in The Railway Today, that I begin to suspect some loss of focus on the author’s part. ‘What now for the Strathclyde network? The first answer most people would give is Crossrail...which would allow through passenger journeys...without the need to crossing the Clyde.’ The way this issue sorts itself out in my own mind is that such a crossing would serve traffic from south-west Scotland and western England. The east side is already served by Edinburgh, whose main station is through-running to the north. Glasgow on the other hand has two main stations, both buffer-stops with one pointing south and west, the other east and north. One answer is to route all such north-south through movements via Edinburgh, particularly as nearly everywhere in Scotland north of the central belt is over on Edinburgh’s side. I can imagine two reasons for wanting a crossing nearer Glasgow. One would be to provide a station handling freight principally that avoids the dead-end in central Glasgow, the other would be to allow for northbound traffic from Glasgow Airport, which has notions of itself as becoming ‘Scotland’s airport’. It is currently far from agreed that Glasgow Airport needs a rail link (Berlin’s Tegel has managed without one for years), but if the Crossrail were to go ahead for other reasons it would inevitably (I suppose) amplify the call for the airport link. In which case the airport traffic could have the choice of a route to Central Station ending there or else an avoiding line skirting the big city on its way to the north. Or of course they could cut the Gordian knot and just decree Edinbugh’s airport and not Glasgow’s as being ‘Scotland’s’.

You can imagine just how political this issue is and is likely to remain. Apart from the Commonwealth Games there is the little matter of Scotland’s referendum, scheduled for September 2014, on full independence, no less. Supposing the Scot Nats win, they could crucify themselves on this issue alone, together with several others I can think of. Interesting times.

TCP LED B22d Bayonet Cap 10 Watt LED Classic Shape, White
TCP LED B22d Bayonet Cap 10 Watt LED Classic Shape, White

5.0 out of 5 stars AND THERE WAS LIGHT, 1 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Any of us concerned to manage and limit our electric usage should be interested in this new offering. Hopefully the price will come down, but that happens to technological innovations almost without exception. If you don't want to wait for that, you might get one of the few of these bulbs left on the Vine.

The first thing to note is that this product looks good, much like one of the old filament bulbs, only a lot heavier. The second point is that the light (described as equivalent to 60W from a filament effort) is good and bright; and the third point is that the quality of the light is pleasant, strong and all though it is. What exactly is a 25000-hour expected life? If that is elapsed calendar-time from installation it works out to a little less than 3 years. If it is based on some estimate of the amount of usage the bulb gets, someone has come up with a prediction of 25 years, which would be the outside limit of how long I for one might be on the scene to use it. I have installed mine in the bathroom ceiling, making it the bulb switched on most in my house. I shall be satisfied with less than 25 years, I expect, especially as I have kept the fluorescent-type saver bulb that was there before it and so can replace this new one without cost. In the meantime, I wish I had installed it before shaving and not after, but from the next shave onwards I am looking forward to the benefit of better light and an easier experience.

In Your Own Hands: New Hope for People with Chronic Medical Conditions: Mindfulness-Based Practices for Mastery and Wellbeing
In Your Own Hands: New Hope for People with Chronic Medical Conditions: Mindfulness-Based Practices for Mastery and Wellbeing
by Larry Berkelhammer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.06

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars COPING AND HOPING, 25 Jun. 2014
Dr Larry Berkelhammer himself suffers from a number of chronic debilitating conditions. In that case it says a lot for the mindsets and mental disciplines that he prescribes that he has found the energy to put together a long and detailed book, intended for the benefit of us all, on how to deal with whatever slings and arrows life aims at us. In this edition the book is described as being for people with chronic medical conditions, and indeed the back cover restricts even this subset further to `Americans', but Dr Berkelhammer deserves a more inclusive readership. His type of psychotherapy aims to make life more tolerable for some, but also to improve the sheer quality of life for many, perhaps for most, perhaps even for everyone.

The watchword is `mindfulness'. The definition of this, quoted from Dr Jon Kabatt-Zinn, is a bit of a mouthful `the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, nonjudgmentally'. I hope it is fair to partly paraphrase this as cultivating awareness of our real experience at any given time without looking back or thinking ahead. It is a matter of being honest with ourselves at all times without `editing' our thoughts and feelings for whatever reason. This is not to abolish memory and forethought of course, it is just a question of keeping them in their proper places. This can have important consequences for any of us. In particular we all know by now that illness is often psychosomatic - that is just part of the ordinary background of general awareness these days - so what can be caused by the wrong kinds of thinking can be alleviated or avoided or even cured by the right kinds. An impressive array of statistics is paraded for us in support of this viewpoint, and indeed much of what they show is neither new nor radical nor specific to Dr Berkelhammer's arguments.

I don't suppose that this book is to be classified as academic. Its purpose is practical and its audience is the public generally. For all that (and subject to contradiction by the learned) I suspect that the research has been painstaking and that the statistics quoted are in the main reliable. Some are fairly startling but even so they can be paralleled elsewhere. The case of Roseto PA is cited in particular. One generation of Roseto's population had lifestyles that seemed hair-raisingly unhealthy, and yet their statistics for cancer, heart disease etc were below the national average. Come the next generation the lifestyles `corrected' themselves, but the sickness statistics normalised as well, and the reason seems to have been that the spirit of communal support had gone together with the bad habits in other respects. I recently saw an article by Peter Hessler in which a town whose inhabitants had been heavily exposed to radiation actually had lower than average stats for lung cancer.

There is a programme for learning and practising the Mindfulness lifestyle. It is not, thank goodness, some attempt to change people's basic nature like, say, the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, but it is demanding and it is time-consuming. My feeling is that to adopt the programme wholesale you have to be fairly young. Even so, there are so many sensible-sounding suggestions later in the book that I like to think they can be adopted piecemeal. In that case I shall keep the book by me for reference if at some time my own robust-seeming health starts to flake away. It's not just the paths of glory that lead but to the grave, it's any old paths you like to name, including this one. In the meantime my life - anyone's life - can be made better and more productive than we sometimes allow it to be, and Dr Berkelhammer deserves heartfelt thanks for charting out the way to achieving that.

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