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Bang in the Middle
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Bang in the Middle makes a point about the North South divide by focussing on the area in the middle. Making a pilgrimage across several midland counties, the author tells the tale of historic figures and legend in order to understand something about the identity of the region.

Rebelliousness and invention are recurring themes and there is a fair amount of debate about where the actual boundaries of the Midlands might be? The book is an interesting starting point for anyone wanting to discover something about the anonymous towns and cities that are located either side of the M1 motorway. It is written in a easy conversational style and throws up a few contentious surprises, such as appropriating Lady Diana Spencer Princess of Wales as an archetypal Midlander: In other words ‘a rebellious spirit who hailed from Northamptonshire’.

The M1 Motorway does however draw a dividing line between East and West (Midlands) and I would question whether the Midlands is a unified region at all, when its towns and villages can demonstrate huge differences and rivalries when only a few miles apart!

The book’s main focus appears to be on the East Midlands rather than the West. This works for me because I grew up in the East midlands and can identify with the local folklaw, but will no doubt disappoint some readers from the West Midlands, especially given the scale of a metropolitan city like Birmingham.

Disputed geographical and cultural boundaries crop up time and time again and I found myself rejecting the author’s claim that Lincolnshire isn’t part of the East Midlands. Skegness is conspicuous by its absence. Certainly in the days before cheap air travel, working class people from Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire gravitated towards the seaside town for holidays, or to take up residence in its convalescence homes and caravan villages.

Bang in the Middle will no doubt fuel debate within the Midlands and perhaps even intrigue a few who live in the North and the South. The book is very much a starting-point for further study and reading.

A companion book might be ‘Down from the Hill’ by Nottingham Author Alan Sillitoe. Although a fictional account of a cycle ride by a Nottingham factory worker during ‘holiday fortnight’, the book also paints a very vivid picture of the East Midlands, extending across the countries of Northamptonshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire - the very places documented and brought up-to-date in Robert Shore’s book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Bang in the Middle takes the form of a travelogue, but the author is really leading us through many entertaining chapters of Midlands history, enlightening us with long-neglected facts or thought-provoking new perspectives. The style is affable and often very funny, drawing us into the personal family along with Mum, Aunt Denise, Uncle John et al as the journey through the undervalued "heart" of the country progresses.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 11 April 2014
This book is the perfect combination of humour and history. I am an American transplant in London, and Bang in the Middle highlighted how much the English Midlands and the American Midwest have in common. Stilton cheese, Wisconsin cheddar; pork pies, hot dish, and of course generally being ignored by everyone. I laughed out loud, learned a lot, and feel more at home in England having read this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 April 2014
I read the blurb about this book – ‘A book to put the Midlands back on the map’ and straight away I was absolutely hooked. I was born in Buckinghamshire but moved to the Midlands when I was five years old and am happy to describe myself as a ‘Midlander’ by adoption. After all I’ve stayed here for 59 years and will no doubt end my days here, in rural Staffordshire, so I think my loyalty to the region is beyond reproach!

The book was born out of a question posed by the five-year-old son of the author, who was taking part in a school project. It was as a result of this that Robert Stone undertook a journey through The Midlands on a quest to find out more about his roots as a fellow Midlander. The book is composed of a myriad of interesting facts and exhaustive research all written about, discussed and debated under chapters about one or other of the cities and towns that make up the North, South, East and West Midlands. These facts are not only about the culture and heritage of the area, but its history, its dialect, geography, famous sons and daughters, sports personalities and celebrities, famous inventors, scientist, doctors, builders, musicians and many other interesting snip-its of information.

During the course of his travels he visited Northampton, Stratford upon Avon, Melton Mowbray, Grantham Coventry, Birmingham, Lichfield, Stoke on Trent, Burton, Nottingham, Chatsworth, The Crags and Mansfield, the city of his birth. I read so many interesting facts, I found out information that was new to me and I enjoyed the style of writing that was both intellectual and humorous. All in all – it’s ‘a little gem’ that I’ll certainly be recommending to my fellow land-locked Midlander friends. What’s more I’ve also downloaded ‘Fifty Great Things to Come Out of the Midlands’ to further entertain, inform and amuse me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 April 2014
Robert Shore is a man on a mission. He’s sick to death of Midlands culture being appropriated by gobby northerners and southern softies. These two binary identities have acted as a cultural vice that have effectively crushed out the voices of those bang in the middle of the country. He drags his poor family along for the ride and is slowly transformed into a paranoid, nervous wreck. It is a paradox, one to which he is aware, that he displays the one trait you would not associate with the region that dare not speak its name: pride. The Midlands is a disjointed mix and it’s difficult to see what Nottingham (my home) has in common with that shed up the A52 (Derby) and those crisp munchers a few stops down the M1 (Leicester), but it’s certainly something I’d consider now. The book is structured around a tick list of achievements that are central to his thesis that the Midlands is the answer for everything, but this means we miss the raw voices of strangers. The author has set himself up for a right kicking, primarily from the north and the south, but also from the Midlands, as inevitably certain figures and events are going to be missed, resulting in numerous mardies. Therefore, I would view this as the opening dialogue, rather than a definitive list, to a conversation about contemporary culture that is much needed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 April 2014
Well what a cracker of a book and so amusing especially as I too come from the Midlands and didn't know we have an accent. its about embarking on a journey of self to find out about yourself, where you come from and the heritage which is so much around where you live, places of interest he visited, BBC, Crossroads and Benny, we seem to forget that the midlands covers a wide area spanned across many towns and villages together with heritage of by gone days.
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on 14 September 2014
Robert Shore argues for greater acknowledgement of the Midlands whilst touring each area and reporting on it's history, character and current state.

The book follows a general structure of each chapter visiting a location, interacting with family/friends who are generally indifferent to the topic, and talking about the history and achievements to come from there. It is generally readable and light hearted. The main problem is author labours the points a bit, with many of the arguments being repeated over and over which gets a bit tiresome. In some chapters he gets so carried away with one point for so long that it gets tiresome and misses out anything else to be said about the area (the Wolverhampton chapter is pretty much just a love note to metal music, I am pretty sure Tipper Gore got more attention in it than the actual place).

As someone from the Midlands and knows what it is like being caught in the north/south no man's land, this book touches an interesting and rarely explored niche. To see normally out of the way places you have lived and visited talked about is quite a nice bonus novelty. I even learnt quite a few interesting facts that I had no idea came from or were about places from the Midlands.

Overall the book features plenty of interesting facts and history (including ones about places embarrassingly close to me that I had no idea about), the overall thesis is a good and fairly unique idea, but it feels like it needs a tidy up and better thought out structure to make an impact on the mindset of anyone who isn't already invested in the area. Though it is certainly very nice to have someone argue for the Midlands.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 16 April 2014
There's a deep uncertainty running through this book which weakens Shore's - overstated - central thesis that there is indeed a Midlands identity which is distinct and qualitatively different from either North or South. He constantly cites friends who dispute the boundaries of the Midlands, or who assert a strict east/west division. The problem stems from buying into the branding triumph that is the notion of the North as a distinct region. It isn't, and neither is the Midlands.

And I write as a Midlands Nationalist! I've lived in both the East and the West Midlands, as well as in the North and the South of England. I recognise that Shore captures well the nuanced identities of the East Midlands, from the industrial north to the comfortable south east of the region. He is much less certain when it comes to the West Midlands. I'm pleased he had a lovely time in Birmingham, but it's a very superficial account, and grows weaker as he ventures further west. The border country in Shropshire and Herefordshire, with its hippy bohemianism is as different from rural Leicestershire or Northamptonshire as could be. It is scarcely reflected here.

Pop geography, that's what Bang In The Middle is. Trying to do a Stuart Maconie for the Midlands. A laudable ambition, perhaps, but with all the weaknesses of the genre. The organising thesis is unsustainable as an argument, and fails as a branding exercise. The 'light' tone of the writing also doesn't work for me; it feels laboured rather than sincere. Apart from the execrable pop music references. These are so ghastly as to be authentically Midlands.

Buy this book if you are an East Midlander with little knowledge of the West Midlands. If you are a Wessie, save your pennies, or better still, buy The Sea In Birmingham, edited by Gaynor Arnold and Julia Bell, an excellent anthology of Midlands short stories which capture the reality of the region with humour and poignancy.
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on 25 May 2014
I am a Scotsman myself , but lived for several years in Staffordshire and the West Midlands . My wife is a proud Brummie and my eldest daughter was born in Wolverhampton , I went to university there and spent some of the best years of my life in the Midlands , so this book was always going to be of interest to me .

Robert Shore sets off around on a journey of the Midlands to discover what it means to be a Midlander in the 21st century , and the result is highly amusing and entertaining . Personally I preferred the second half of the book as in that part he travels around all of the places I know so well . Along the way , he looks at the importance of the Midlands in areas as diverse as the world of heavy metal (rock luminaries such as Ozzy Osbourne , Slash and Lemmy are all proud Midlanders) and curry , in which he samples the delicacies of Birmingham's 'curry mile'.

A travel writer along the likes of Bill Bryson , this is a cracker of a little book :)
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on 21 January 2015
I found it not only informative and interesting (history and culture - yes, I skipped the football) but most importantly for me, funny and touching. There is everything in this book, so I now believe that all forms of human life come from the Midlands - family, road trips, character, literature, sports, nature, concrete jungle, pottery, truth and lies, lurve, maudlin-ness, food and drink, language, politics, industry, music, and obviously, a great deal of so-called Northerners... Hm.
Through an apparently regionalistic stance, the author in fact appeals to all those who like to call somewhere "home" and don't appreciate anyone discrediting it - or worse pretending it does not even exist!
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