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The Birthday Boys
The Birthday Boys
by Beryl Bainbridge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Reveals the humans in a well known story, 5 Oct 2013
This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Paperback)
There are many biographies and histories written about Scott and his polar party, but Bainbridge brings the human element to the story, reflecting on the people, their motivations and ultimately their feelings as they walked towards death.

The book is written in five chapters, one for each of the final polar party, written from their perspective.

The common man, Petty Officer Evans, with his worries about money and his drink problems opens the book as the expedition sets out from Cardiff.

Class is forever present, and the final four chapters deal with the officer class.

Edward Wilson, deeply religious but leading the scientific programme. Highly reserved, he's still a person that everyone looks up to and consults for advice, which he gives reluctantly:

"Better to say nothing than to condemn, and to laugh with than to criticise, and so much happier."

Wilson was Scott's anchor, he protected the men from Scott's wrath and yet allowed Scott to get his problems off his chest, easing his stress.

Scott was a man of contrasting passions - at once the naval officer striving to lead, and yet he struggled to stamp his authority, feeling the weight of the entire endeavour weighing heavily on his shoulders. He was also a man of contradictions: criticising Shackleton from previous expeditions for carelessness and lacking attention to detail, and accusing Gran of laziness; yet Scott failed to calculate that five men attempting the final assault on the pole, when they had rations and space for only four could be disastrous.

Bowers had been with Wilson and Cherry-Garrard (who wasn't chosen to make the final attempt on the pole) on the "worst journey in the world" and it's only by reading this novel where he's presented as such a strong, driven character, that I'm now surprised that of all the party he didn't pull through and make it to One Ton Depot and so to safety. However, his death, like those of the rest of the party has ensured their place in history.

Bainbridge presents Oates as a complex character, often in opposition to Scott. Yet, it's his chapter - the final one, when describing Evans' final moments of suffering and panic, that the class between them is slammed shut and the men are revealed. I've read many books about this episode of polar exploration, but I doubt I'll ever read such a powerful, humanistic approach to it.

I have never read any of Bainbridge's other books, but I was deeply impressed by this one. She got into the heart of her characters, even down to the writing style of each chapter - from the simple, somewhat stilted language used by Evans, to the beautiful prose representing Wilson and Scott.


Stargazing
Stargazing
by Peter Hill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Evocative of a lost age, 16 Jun 2012
This review is from: Stargazing (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this book. Hill only spent a relatively short spell on the lighthouses, but he has captured the essence of life on them. His is an idyllic view where life on remote rocks out at sea is about lazy days sometimes punctuated by painting the fence or building a jetty or crafting a boat from wood washed up on shore, and always filled with lavish lunches and, especially when his colleague Finlay was around, veritable feasts in the evening.

The book is a snapshot of a romantic way of life interspersed with eccentric characters and stories of war and tragedy and close shaves with the sea, and the constant foreboding threat of automation waiting to put all the men out of a job and indeed, completely changing their lives.

Having spent a week on Shetland where I often saw lighthouses continuing to light the way for mariners, I couldn't help but feel sad that they're no longer the venues for late night "Rembrandts" as Hill called them.

This is an excellent book that despite all the optimism surrounding Hill's relationships with the other keepers, nevertheless made feel sad that this way of life is no longer possible.


The Worst Journey In The World
The Worst Journey In The World
by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monumental, 26 Nov 2011
The Worst Journey in the World is simply one of the finest books I've ever read. Nowadays with permanent bases in Antarctica, we can forget that at one time exploring the frozen continent was a major undertaking. We have the benefit of modern mapping and GPS; powerful ships that can break through formidably deep ice floes; airplanes that can transport people to the remotest parts of Antarctica; a greater understanding of nutrition and healthcare; and superior technical clothing and tents. Apsley Cherry-Garrard was from a time when the continent was largely unknown and their expedition took them three years away from home, friends and family.

In his early twenties, he has captured the depth of trust and selflessness that all members of the expedition had in each other, while facing the greatest challenges that many of them will have ever faced. For some, it was their final challenge.

It's now well-known that Amundsen won the race to the South Pole. Cherry-Garrard does not mention Amundsen often in the early parts of the book. The first time was when Scott received a mischievous telegram in Melbourne while the Terra Nova was making its way to New Zealand - it read simply, "Madeira. Am going South. AMUNDSEN." The sense of shock was palpable, and I could feel his expedition haunting the narrative.

Later, Amundsen's party was discovered, and Cherry-Garrard explained that "for an hour or so we were furiously angry, and we were possessed with an insane sense that we must go straight to the Bay of Whales and have it out with Amundsen and his men". This seems out of character with the stoic philosophy prevalent during the Heroic Age of exploration, but he goes on to say that "we had so completely forgotten the spirit of competition and its sudden intrusion jarred frightfully". Here I think Cherry-Garrard is talking about their feeling of togetherness but I think it's also a feeling of shame at their initial reaction to the presence of Amundsen nearby - their feelings of wanting to "have it out with Amundsen and his men" offended them just as much as the reminder that they were not on their own in the race for the Pole.

While the story is ultimately tragic, the book also has a great sense of humour running through it, especially in the early parts. Describing Bowers and Atkinson dragging sledges up a steep slope, and Bowers following Scott's method of moving without a rest until the top, Atkinson said "I don't mind you as a rule, but there are times when I positively hate you".

The animals suffered greatly, especially the ponies. Scott said, "this is the end of the Pole" after the loss of some ponies and the difficulties and dangers they encountered, sending him into a kind of despair that made him doubt their abilities to reach the Pole. However, there was also a sense of never giving in, and so Scott's quote can also be about the Pole falling under their feet one day.

Of course, Scott's expedition wasn't just about reaching the Pole; science played a central role. As Nansen said, "the history of the human race is a continual struggle from darkness towards light". The party believed this to their core, and even while the final polar party was struggling back from the Pole, starving and running out of fuel, they still carried rock specimens with them, and throughout the three years of the expedition, meteorological and geological measurements were taken endlessly and the wildlife studied.

Not the least of these scientific endeavours was Cherry-Garrard, Bowers and Wilson's expedition to retrieve Emperor penguin eggs. This Winter Journey was one which affected Cherry-Garrard deeply and he could never forget, coming close to death. During their first winter, Cherry-Garrard found time to record both the beauty and the desolation of the Antarctic, "every now and then there comes a sharp crack like a pistol shot; it is the ice contracting in the glaciers of Erebus, and you know that it is getting colder. Your breath smokes, forming white rime over your face, and ice in your beard; if it is very cold you may actually hear it crackle as it freezes in mid air!"

Much has been said over the years about whether Scott made poor decisions, but I think he was victim to misfortune more than anything. His legacy lives on, and Cherry-Garrard is to be thanked for this magnificent work. The men who made this journey were tirelessly brave and never complained even while suffering from cold and hunger and nearing death. This book is a monument to their memories.


Research Methods and Statistics (Palgrave Insights in Psychology series)
Research Methods and Statistics (Palgrave Insights in Psychology series)
by Dr. Ian Walker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable for those new to statistics, 5 July 2011
Having struggled to understand some concepts around hypothesis testing from other sources, I was seeking out a book that would have an easy to understand structure and would spend more time explaining some of the more basic foundations underpinning statistics - these are often glossed over in other sources.

I've found this book to be just what I was looking for. I now feel confident that I understand concepts like the null hypothesis, p values, significance, as well as knowing how to interpret statistical results. Ian Walker uses real life examples as well as some thought experiments to clearly explain each concept.

A short section opening the book covers research methods, with a brief overview of quantitative and qualitative methods, as well as ethical considerations in psychological research. This section doesn't go into too much depth as the bulk of the book is devoted to explaining statistics instead. Statistics are a vital part of any research project, and the book explains a little about how they fit together with research methods, but the focus is definitely on the statistics themselves.

The book was designed for psychology students, but much of the content could easily be transferred to other disciplines since many of the techniques are equally applicable in other areas.

So if you're struggling to understand some concepts in statistics like I was, then this book might help you to make that crucial breakthrough in understanding.


Swallows And Amazons
Swallows And Amazons
by Arthur Ransom
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Set in a gentler age, 31 Dec 2007
This review is from: Swallows And Amazons (Paperback)
I may, at age 31, be late in coming to this book, but I'm glad I have.

The book does offer up an idealised view of childhood - a time when children were free to explore unhindered, and a time when people had much more respect for one another. I can see that this book was set just after World War I, and racism was rife throughout Europe in the form of the rise of Nazism, and with a modern view of the world this does temper your appreciation for how naively the world appears to have been portrayed in the book.

However, as I was a child growing up in the 80s, a time that wasn't so long ago, I feel that I was brought up to respect others, and was indeed given freedom to explore the parks and countryside, freedom which children nowadays appear not to have, whether this is warranted or not. In this respect, the book may be better appreciated by those who were able to enjoy the freedom to explore and imagine during their childhood, but perhaps it could inspire children nowadays to realise that not all the world is a dangerous place and that it's a much better place where you have more respect for others, and indeed, more self-confidence.

This book is brimming with characters full of imagination - there doesn't have to be sharks present just that they can imagine and pretend that there are, and likewise I really enjoyed all the maritime talk - I'm even thinking of learning to sail just so I can better get a feel for what it's like and to understand a lot of the language used in the book.


The Wild Places
The Wild Places
by Robert Macfarlane
Edition: Hardcover

42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting at times, 17 Sep 2007
This review is from: The Wild Places (Hardcover)
I really enjoyed Macfarlane's previous book "Mountains of the Mind" in which he explored the cultural and social view of mountains and highlands, how our perceptions towards wild lands has changed over time.

Therefore, I was pleased to find a signed copy of his latest book "The Wild Places" in a local bookshop. He travels the length and breadth of Great Britain and Ireland in search of wilderness. In such over-crowded islands, is he able to find something which most would consider as wilderness? His travels take him from Scotland where he encounters what must be regarded as the classical view of wilderness - big landscapes far removed from population. He then discovers during his travel through the Burren in western Ireland and along the holloways of Dorset that wilderness exists much closer than he previously considered, that humans are as much a part of wilderness as the landscapes themselves and the animals and plants that live there.

One trip seemed to trouble him greatly; he decided to sleep at the summit of Ben Hope during winter, but having found true wilderness in the chill and remoteness of the summit he found himself retreating in defeat back towards the comfort of other people.

While his travels are admirable and purposeful, I couldn't help feel that he wouldn't cut it amongst real explorers to real wild places - if being frightened off Ben Hope then how would he cope surviving in somewhere truly remote like the Arctic? There was also the disappointment that he reached many locations by car - in this regard it could be argued that by reaching the locations so easily and for such short periods of time his experiences only had the surface appearance of tourist trips.

However, these niggles aside, I would still recommend the book and it's good to see someone writing in a literate style about our wild places and peoples' place in the landscape.


Akuma No Uta
Akuma No Uta

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blistering, 30 Jun 2007
This review is from: Akuma No Uta (Audio CD)
This is a top album. I got into Boris after hearing Pink, but I think this is even better.

The opener Introduction is a slow burning track, more in keeping with their drone sounds from other albums.

However, we get a double-whammy of heavy rock on Ibitsu and Furi, before it delves into a contemplative jam with Naki Kyoku. After twelve minutes of bliss, you're woken from your meditation by the wonderful opening riffs of Ano Onna No Onryou.

The title track closes the album, sounding at first like a simple reprise of the opener, but it soon explodes with brilliant heavy guitars and superb drumming.


Young Team
Young Team
Offered by rarerarerare
Price: £17.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow, 12 Jun 2007
This review is from: Young Team (Audio CD)
I've only given this one listen through so far, and I've loved every bit of it so far. First stand-out track was Tracy, and it was only after listening to the sublime Mogwai Fear Satan that I was able to understand the luke-warm reviews of Mr. Beast. This is in my opinion their very best album.


Grizzly Man [2005] [DVD]
Grizzly Man [2005] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Werner Herzog
Offered by babsbargains *** WORLDWIDE SHIPPING *Posting Everyday up to last posting day for Xmas**
Price: £18.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fateful, 6 Jan 2007
This review is from: Grizzly Man [2005] [DVD] (DVD)
I've just watched Werner Herzog's film Grizzly Man. It's about Timothy Treadwell, an American who retreats to the wilds of Alaska each summer to live with and protect the grizzly bears. Treadwell thought that he could live as a bear, and he was vitriolic about humans and civilisation. It seems to me that he was so emotionally attached to the animals that he didn't have any rationality left when it came to being aware of the risk to himself. He often talked about understanding how the bears behaved, and that if other people had come to Alaska, those people would have been killed.

He normally only stayed there during the summer, but one time when trying to travel back home, he was refused entry onto the plane, so he returned to the wilds again, this time even more hateful of people. Most of the bears he'd come to know had gone into hibernation, and as storms began to build on the coast, starving, more aggressive bears from further inland appeared in search of food, and in the end Treadwell and his girlfriend were killed by one of them.

The film is made up of Treadwell's videos of himself, and his commentaries. Herzog also interviews friends and family, and there's one strong moment where Herzog listens to the recording of Treadwell at the moment of his death, and it's very powerful, more so that the viewer doesn't get to hear it, instead we have to imagine it from descriptions of the recording. At times when watching the footage, you feel that Treadwell is creating a fiction rather than recording fact - he records many takes of himself talking to camera as he tries to perfect it, and he often talks about himself being alone, however on a few occasions he'd been accompanied but he creates a persona of himself as a lone protector of the animals. He also talks about the bears protecting him; from other people but also I think from himself. His history had been self-destructive and he'd had a few knock-backs in life, that he must have felt that by being such on edge with the bears he couldn't afford to let his guard down.

I often wondered who Treadwell was recording the videos for - did he intend them to be seen by a mass audience or were they for himself? I get the feeling that he was aware of his potential fate living in such dangerous proximity to these animals, and that he was shooting the videos to be a reminder of his life.


Funny Games [DVD] [1997]
Funny Games [DVD] [1997]
Dvd ~ Susanne Lothar
Offered by claires_media_store
Price: £4.99

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unsettling, 10 Dec 2006
This review is from: Funny Games [DVD] [1997] (DVD)
This is an unsettling film to watch, much like the director's The Piano Teacher. I believe the director made it to challenge viewers' perceptions and their consumerism of violence in film. Much of the violence in the film occurs off screen, but with sound used to great effect so that you imagine what's going on - perhaps as a viewer you make it seem even more violent? I've seen people criticize the film in terms of plot - for example, would someone else deal with their tormentors in a different way from that in the film, but I feel that the film demonstrates violence and fear in a more realistic way. However, by engaging the viewer in this way, the director is demonstrating how passive we are when watching explicit violence in Hollywood horrors and violence - do we ever question the violence in these films?

The director even plays with the audience's idea of how the situation can unfold, at one point rewinding a scene and then playing it differently. I've read that in Cannes the audience had cheered at the original scene, but it must have been almost nauseating for them to see the scene being changed before their eyes. There's also a moment when I felt it must now be over for them, and I really felt like tension had been relieved, but slowly the director piles the pressure back on again.

The film draws you in, you feel real apprehension and fear for the characters being held, but then all of a sudden, one of the tormentors speaks to camera, and you're jolted out of your position as a mere passive viewer, and for a moment even feel relief, but then the film pulls you back in again, and once again you're in the position of the captives.

I mentioned earlier The Piano Teacher - I didn't like this film when I first saw it, but I think this was because that film was difficult to watch - Haneke has a gift of making uncomfortable films; he makes you wonder should you be getting enjoyment from watching violence or sadistic behaviour on screen? Haneke makes the viewer an active participant in his films, and by the time the films are over you find yourself questioning the film, but also you're own reaction to them.


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