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J. R. Pack "julianpack" (Equatorial Guinea)
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Les Sept Couleurs
Les Sept Couleurs
by R Brasillach
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A curious little historical (rather than political) footnote?, 16 Sept. 2012
This review is from: Les Sept Couleurs (Paperback)
This little book revolves around two/three main characters - Patrice, Catherine and later Francois. There is quite a nice little summary of the plot on Wikipedia, so I won't dwell too much on that. The backdrop is the rise of facism in Europe as Patrice drifts to first Italy then Germany (by way of the French Forign Legion and a meeting with a young nascent NAZI). Due to these absences, Catherine, his girlfriend, meets a young communist, Francois; he in turn becomes disillusioned with the left and comes to the right. The temporary return of Patrice throws a temptation to Catherine, but opts to stay with Francois who, however, sees her in Patrice's car and thinks the worse. He goes off to Spain to join a bandera of the Spanish Foreign and is wounded. The book ends with Catherine travelling to visit Francois in hospital. Amidst this, several other characters drop in/out, including a young 'couple' of children also called Catherine and Patrice. So much for the plot.

The book itself is curious for the content and the style - the title refers to the seven differnt styles ustilized by Brasillach - letters, narrative, dialogue, &c. The discourse section on turning thirty ties simply with Brasillach's age at the time of writing and seems the most 'distant' section - something chucked in for good measure. Brasillach supported Franco's forces in Spain, visiting in 1938 (I think), and was no doubt in contact with members of the French 'Jeanne d'Arc' contingent. I want to say his historical knowledge, regardless of the political bias is bona fide. This is the draw of the book to my mind. Brasillach's charaters are also interesting - Patrice sees the young NAZI's presence in the French Foreign Legion as mere training for future Franco-German conflict; likewise his own presence in Germany is seen with the same perspective. The Nuremburg rallies, the presence of Goring and others, even Julius Streicher, is also a fascinating snapshot.

I'm not sure if this has been tranlated into English, but (personally) the French is comparatively not too difficult - easier than Drieu la Rochelle and Celine (if looking for comparison). Anyway, however you read it, keep in the forefront of your mind that this is a book of 1938/9, pre-war and should be judged on it's literary merits and not on what the author 'did' during the war and what happened to him in 1945. Ad rerum.


Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone
Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone
by Andrew Thomson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Self-indulgence galore, 6 Feb. 2012
My first recommendation is to read the other reviews, especially those who gave this book three or fewer stars. These give a good balance to the more enthusiastic five-star reviews.

As many other reviewers have spelled out the thread and content of 'Emergency Sex...', I won't waste anymore space on that. Instead, I'll cut to the strengths and weaknesses of the book. On the plus side, it gives a reasonable inside account of the 'nineties, the decade in which humanitarian interventionism commenced in earnest, when the UN was riding high, and to which end the humanitarian business was booming - the UN created so many professional staff in this period, especially off the back of Bosnia, that they have been over-staffed for years as a result (not so easy to get people `out' once `in'). The decade that ended with the distasteful sight of 200+ NGOs lined up and raring to enter Kosovo in June 1999.

Of the three authors, the Kiwi doctor, Andrew, is the most worthwhile - as a medical doctor he actually has the most to offer in real, practical help; Harvard graduate Ken seems pushy, yet naïve or perhaps an unwitting zealot for the new world order, something perhaps heading towards the 'Quiet American' of Graham Greene. Social worker Heidi, doesn't really have many redeeming features, other than a bit of pluck. In her rush to be different from the models that occupy her soon-to-be ex-husband's fashion industry world, she reveals her own vanities, as do her predictable sexual encounters. And so we continue in that vein.

The book starts well enough, and the device of alternating input from all three works best in Cambodia, where they first meet. I agree with the reviewer who said it felt as if the whole book had been written up by Ken. This literary device tends to run a bit out of steam by the time we get to Somalia - Ken and Heidi's parts provide some of the more lively/less purplely prose, in contrast to Andrew's flaccid Haitian debacle.

Each section has a brief introduction to cover what was happening in each place. Knowing little about Cambodia and only remembering the barest of details of Somalia, Rwanda, and Liberia, I found these welcome. However, this was soon spoilt by the Bosnian section - considering Andrew was there (albeit in the later stages), he seems remarkably ill-informed about the intricacies of the war there - it's as if he had just resorted to a CNN, Fox or BBC briefing: emotive and sensationalist. This spoilt the whole book and confirmed my initial suspicions that their, at times, lightweight sensationalism is the hallmark of the whole work.

Working for over two years with UNHCR in the Balkans I did meet quite a few people like this: lost souls in need of thrills, needing to feel needed and worthwhile; the wars become scaffolds for wilting egos. A local colleague told me that people generally viewed the so-called aid-workers as people who could not 'make it' in their own countries, that they were `on the run'. Indeed, I saw the irony of working in the UN refugee agency which was staffed by many self-motivated `refugees' from the US and western Europe. Many complained that once the shooting stopped, it became boring: they were gagging to get to the next `one'. These three seem no exception; I feel no sympathy for them: they put themselves in those places - they had choice, unlike the people they were supposed to be helping. Their own cynicism over the United Nations seems too little, too late to my mind - there is much truth in what they say, but they are as guilty as those they criticize.

In short, the basis of the book is factual: it is entertaining and informative to a certain level - the student of these conflicts will learn something; it's a reasonably pacy read. But it is self-indulgent and often maudlin; the thread-bare excuse for their debaucheries that it's either `emergency sex' or go off the rails, is near pathetic. It feels more that they came to those places for themselves, not for the people there. There are too many revealing comments: Ken can barely disguise that he appears jealous of the attention a colleague gets who has just lost someone close. Personally, for me the core of this book is contained in the episode when Ken recounts a rooftop sexual encounter with a French aid worker in Haiti, who at `the moment' whispers `je je je jouis' [I enjoy/am gratified] - the whole tenor of the book is more that the `jouissance' was all theirs!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 20, 2013 8:23 AM BST


Brother Against Brother : Experiences of a British Volunteer in the Spanish Civil War
Brother Against Brother : Experiences of a British Volunteer in the Spanish Civil War
by Frank Thomas
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent if not unusual account of the Spanish Civil War, 3 Feb. 2012
Obvious comparisons with Peter Kemp's 'Mine Were of Trouble' might be natural, but there are far more differences, beyond Britons in Sp. Foreign Legion, between the two.

Thomas enlisted very early on, though anti-communist, it was more a thirst for adventure and a 'Beau Geste'-like (no, really) desire to join a 'foreign legion'. Unlike Kemp, who makes more preparations, Thomas simply goes one day. He finds his way to Spain via Portugal and enlists as a legionnaire (Kemp was a Carlist requete officer before joining the legion as an ensign). Within days he is in action.

Kemp, the urbane upper-middle class undergraduate, wrote his book twenty years after; Thomas, the grammar school boy from South Wales, wrote his immediately upon his return. Despite his age, his writng is lively and shows some promise, though loaded with jejune and youthful phrasing and hyperbole. But it works at that level and is never boring. While Kemp was advised not to enlist as a legionnaire due to discipline, Thomas never suffers and is often exempt. He meets some interesting foreigners, fights in many battles, including Madrid, and is eventually wounded.

The editor, Prof. Stradling, had also got hold of a diary of another Welshman, Sid Hamm, who joined the International Brigades and died at the battle of Brunete in July 1937. It is an interesting comparison - but what a contrast in the outlook of the two men. Thomas reminds me most of Siegfried Sassoon - he is always ebullient, and seems to know that he will live: even when his comrades are dropping around him and he succumbs to the inevitable bullets, his wounds are to some extent superficial (he was to receive worse in North Africa from German shrapnel). I want to say, he seems to have a confidence that gets him through - I have heard it said that some soliders get the deathwish which they can never shake off until the inevitable. But poor Hamm; a fish out of water from day one, through his hypochondrical and sparse diary one senses that he himself senses that will die. When he reaches his limit in May, he says he'll stick it out till Spetember '37 - Thomas, when wounded, immediately makes the judgment that with 75% casualties in the legion, it is time to leave - luck puts him into contact with Irish volunteers under General Duffy, who are being repatriated; he is hidden amongst them and leaves Spain. In this he is like Kemp: both simply had sense to control their own lives; Hamm submits and dies. It really is a truly sad demise - real pathos.

The introduction is fair, though a little repetious in places, and could have done with a bit of tighter editing. The price of the inclusion Hamm's diary were three short letters by friends/acquaintences - these are a little bit galling and to be honest, I would rather have had Thomas' book alone; but I guess the editor saw this as too much of a temptation. I dislike their leftwing orthodoxical rhetoric of: we were/are/will always be right and I dislike their failure to even understand why people might have been against them. Good to see somethings never change!

Apart from the finger-wagging opening letters, the book is very good - good notes accompany it. My only gripe is, that an endnote outlining Thomas' life after Spain would have been welcome - we are told indirectly he joins the British army in World War Two and I was fascinated to know how he was received with his experience; Kemp mentions that no one was interested in his time in Spain. Thomas wisely realized that no one was also interested in his book in the 1930s/40s and placed it in a drawer until publication in 1998. There are some good photos, including even a couple of Thomas in the trenches. Well worth the read, if this overlong review hasn't put you off.


Mine were of trouble
Mine were of trouble
by Peter Kemp
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you can find a copy..., 31 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Mine were of trouble (Hardcover)
Startling but well-written account of an Englishman who decided to fight against the left in Spain's civil war. Seeking adventure but going also with some political conviction, Peter Kemp left UK before he was 21 to join Franco's forces in November 1936. Compared to many international brigaders who met mistrust, Kemp was generally received with open arms. First, a member of the Carlist requetes where, assisted by a few OTC certificates, he swiftly became a lieutenant; he then decided to switch to the tougher but more elite Spanish Foreign Legion as one of about three or four British officers. Thereon, he recounts a vivid tale of life in Franco's forces, culminating in several battles and engagements, ultimately being wounded.

The value of the book is a non-leftist perspective. He has many interesting things to say, particularly about the bombing of Guernica, which claims Kemp, since the Republicans had bombed Toledo in July 1936, was not the first opening bombing of a town, as well as the fact that the Republicans set fire to Guernica, as they had in Irun. He freely admits that the Nationalists were ridiculously naive in their propaganda compared to the more sophisticated and well-supported Republic. Also an interesting point of view: the involvement of the International Brigades only prolonged a war that Spaniards could have settled much more quickly alone. Food for thought and a bit of a tonic to the usual fairy tale of 'how the left were splendid fellows and everyone else was the devil incarnate'. At least we can salvage a bit of historical objectivity instead of being spoon-fed Hemingway, Orwell, Lee, Spender, Koestler, Malraux, Saint-Exupery, et al.

The biggest problem is finding a copy. Either go to a good library or make do with Kemp's autobiography, 'Thorns Of Memory', the first part of which is pretty much the same text, a bit shortened. Look out also for Frank Thomas' 'Brother Against Brother'.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 18, 2014 1:07 AM BST


The First of The Few [DVD]
The First of The Few [DVD]
Dvd ~ Leslie Howard
Offered by Gaming_Universe
Price: £13.47

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars aka 'Spitfire', 25 July 2011
This review is from: The First of The Few [DVD] (DVD)
Got this film without any expectation. At first I was nonplussed by the opening scenes and feared the worst: a wartime propaganda film, even though the William Walton score boded well. However, the shakey start is made much more understandable when one realizes that the pilots are actual veteran pilots; with this knowledge, it becomes quite a charming, if not slightly jejune, scene.

The real delight is once the story reverts to 1922 - hereon and for the bulk of the film we have excellent performances from Leslie Howard as aeroplane designer R.J. Mitchell and especially from David Niven as Geoffrey Crisp, Mitchell's old school friend and soon-to-be test pilot. Howard and Niven appear to have a very good rapport on screen and the film sparkles. The supporting cast is admirable, even a cameo by Bernard Miles. The humour is quite dry and quirky ("No Englishman likes to be called 'genius'" ... "Dreadful word" ... "Isn't it?"). Niven's banter with various actresses is amusing as are his facial expressions. After one incident in the US, the nurse that attends is actually Howard's real-life daughter.

The annual race meets are also well handled and contain what is now rare actual footage of various designs that Mitchell had worked on. The treatment of the Italians is fair. Later a trip to Germany is well-handled (Germany is not all 'bad'), though the Germans are shown to be somewhat duplicitous as hubris drives them to say too much about the thirst for power and righting the Treaty of Versailles. The whole scene is invention but gives the film its impetus - hereon, Mitchell, backed by Lady Houston, is a man with a mission: to prepare Britain for coming war.

I find the film highly watchable and rewatchable. Yes, there are inaccuracies - the squadron that Niven is in is a Hawker Hurricane one, which is quite clear in the opening scenes, but become Spitfires in the denouement. The ending is probably the most unashamedly patriotic section - "I'll get you, you swine!" kind of stuff. Well, what to do? It was 1942 and Britain was looking for ways to get the greater US public in on their side (it was 'Spitfire' in the US). The film quality is quite 'old', but I can't say it bothered me too much - just gives it a certain period feel, which is not so bad. Aside from the story, personally, I find Leslie Howard's part in it all fascinating and because of this film have been seeking out other films with him (Pygmalion, Intermezzo).

Great all-round entertainment.


Draper 14040 3-Piece Curved Jaw Self-Grip Pliers Set
Draper 14040 3-Piece Curved Jaw Self-Grip Pliers Set
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As the other reviewers have said: great value, 23 Jun. 2011
Had wanted a large set of grips (for no particular reason other than having seen them in the workshops at work and being curious) but saw this triple set and only being an amateur DIY-er and helped by the other reviewers decided on this set, simply based on cost. When they arrived I suddenly had a doubt and wondered why I had bought them. But now I'm glad I did - I tend to use the smaller two more than the largest one, and am constantly finding differing uses for them. I do find that perhaps the quality of the metal is not of the highest - I have seen already some wear on the teeth, but then again, I'm probably using them incorrectly - for example using them when perhaps a shifter or wrench would be better. But the locking mechanism simply allows you to relax temporarily and do something else without losing pressure. Very simplistic and obvious, I know. In short, maybe unless you are a professional mechanic or welder, I think this set is an excellent buy and will last quite a while.


The Essential St. John of the Cross: Ascent of Mount Carmel, Dark Night of the Soul, A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul, and Twenty Poems
The Essential St. John of the Cross: Ascent of Mount Carmel, Dark Night of the Soul, A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul, and Twenty Poems
by Saint John of the Cross
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars sixteenth-century Spanish Christian mysticism (oh yeah!) / twenty-first-century printing (oh no!!!), 10 Oct. 2009
Potentially a great collection of St John of the Cross' works, but seriously spoiled by the printer/publisher. I bought this primarily for the 'Dark Night...' but wanted the 'Ascent' so the book seemed ideal. St John is not the easiest writer to read, particularly in the 'Ascent', which as a training manual is naturally repetitive in the course of its instruction. The 'Dark Night...' is much better (in my opinion), BUT in this edition printed in such a tiny print. To be honest, I have to say this is without doubt the worst printed book I have ever seen. Desktop publishing gone mad. Clearly who ever was doing this was catching the return key judging by the number of separated sentences in mid-flow crossing over two paragraphs. Widows and orphans are to be found on many pages, including at least one title at the bottom of a page. I am GUESSING that this translation is in the public domain and has been cut and pasted? Hell, I've done it enough myself, but I do generally check the pages before printing of a hardcopy. The pagination on the contents' pages has been kept at the original and does not reflect the pagination of the book as a whole. The print of 'Dark Night...' could have been easily made bigger as the number of near empty pages could have been better used. I think even the dreaded facsimile reprint has got to be a better alternative to this style of publishing! In its favour, the binding of the hardback edition is surprisingly good and the quality of the paper is okay - what a pity it has been so spoiled, and ultimately my potential enjoyment of the author (surely the main thing) was greatly impaired by this poor representation. My advice: look for another edition if possible.


The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones Vol.3 (10-Disc-Set) [DVD]
The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones Vol.3 (10-Disc-Set) [DVD]
Dvd ~ George Hall
Price: £15.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good conclusion to the series, 15 Aug. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Having watched the final set, my fears that it would pale in comparison with the second set have been unfounded. There are some very good episodes here, and the intial (perceived) weaknesses (more swashbuckling and supernatural themes) have turned out to be strengths; after all, these things are the cornerstone of the four Ford feature films and set the tone for those films. Here also is some good food for thought - as a couple of other reviewers have stated, the 'Winds of Change' is excellent and the completion of Indy's war-disillusionment. Like other reviewers, I do wish he would talk a bit more about the war and its affects; not that he should be shell-shocked, but just something a bit more human - the only attempt at this is made in the 'Mystery of the Blues', which would have been an excellent opportunity to explore this more within the context/juxtaposition of the quiet seat of learning. However, in Indy's defence, I have heard it said that the ideal soldier is a sixteen year old boy (in a man's body), as he'll do things in war that no man would and be less affected by them, which may go some way to account for his recklessness and ingenuousness in the earlier war years.

By way of criticism, I would point to that there has been some tinkering with chronology here and Hemingway's being wounded (unavoidably June 1918) is grossly at odds with the 1917-referenced episode that directly follows. Does mean that there's, in theory, a huge gap of October 1917 (close of boxset 2) and the Italian section. The Hemingway episode is I think highly important - I have always felt that the young Indy character was superego of Hem, owing much to his life: even the same birthday (July 1899) - as such poor Hemingway is shown to be ingenuous and brash, wholly inspired by meeting Indy. I was also uncomfortable about the 1950s Ford parts included in 'Mystery of the Blues': they are interesting, but do break the train of events - if Ford, why not George Hall then? (That's rhetorical, by the way.) The last three episodes do tail off a bit, but at least attempt to capture the era and prove good fun, but the shouting Prussian Stroheim is at odds with the real softly spoken Austrian Stroheim.

Anyway, for my money, the best episodes are 'Winds of Change' (with 'father' Lloyd Owen back and some exploration of their relations); the Istanbul/Transylvannia one; and 'Eye of the Peacock' (Remy back again). Educationally, I still think this series is good. It never pretends more. Likewise, criticism of war scenes and other content avoids the fact that the series was/is pitched at a young audience. The acting is sufficient - Flanery does what has been required of him and is mostly sympathetic. One of its greatest strengths is the emphasis on speaking of languages - it's been the message from start to finish: communicating in a foreign language is one of the greatest things in the world, and anything that promotes that in young people, cannot be bad.

So, go on, treat yourself to the final slice of the adventure - you won't regret it.


The Nick Adams Stories
The Nick Adams Stories
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting enough, 14 Aug. 2009
This review is from: The Nick Adams Stories (Paperback)
This book represents an idea I had long thought about - collecting all the Nick Adams stuff together. So when I found this book, I was delighted. Additional material was seemingly a bonus. Nick Adams was always one of Hemingway's most compelling characters, mainly because of the strong semi-autobiographical nature of the writings. What I did not feel comfortable about with this volume is the chopping up the stories into marked sections. I don't pretend to be an expert on things Hemingway, but in addition to the obvious signs in the text, I have also read commentaries which say that most Nick Adams stories are pre-war - only 'Big Two-Hearted River' deals with the aftermath. So why, oh why was 'Three Day Blow' marked as post-war? There are so many things to say it isn't, including the 1962 film. For this reason I was left uneasy with this selection. Perhaps we're all wrong and Hemingway's widow knew something nobody else does. I don't know; but this book is excellent on one level but leaves a bad feeling on another. Just like Hemingway's own life, there are many unexplained things.


The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones Vol.2 (9 Disc Box Set) [1992] [DVD]
The Adventures Of Young Indiana Jones Vol.2 (9 Disc Box Set) [1992] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Corey Carrier
Price: £16.00

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just gets better, 19 Feb. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The first volume was good; the second volume is even better. In general, the 'war years' covers July 1916 to October 1917 and sees Indy go from footslogger in the trenches to a captain in military intelligence. From the outset it is very important to keep in mind that the original intention of Indiana Jones was to recreate a story/comic book hero; the 'silly' sounding chapter titles have all been devised with that in mind, and with that in mind I feel many criticisms are unwarranted.

Rather than critique all eight 'movies', I shall focus on what I think is the best one: 'Oganga'. What appeals about this episode (East and Central Africa December 1916/January 1917) is that it covers a lot of ground. It commences with trench warfare, (and like the 'Trenches of Hell' - first episode) with a limited budget does a fair job of showing the horrors of the war. What both these episodes share is the idea of creating a human background: yes, there is a high body count (Indiana himself polishes off quite a few), but there are a number of supporting actors that do only support but whose partial verbal characterized presence helps to create a more natural feel; there are some very nice touches and great attention to detail rather than the usual awkward unrealistic silent treatment of the supporting cast. This is something that is missing from so many so-called Hollywood blockbusters, but here, with a budget of $1.5 million. Disobedience of orders leads to a successful engagement, and Indiana is suitably smug (again, one of the strengths of the series is that he does have feet of clay and is capricious and weak as the next man; he displays the rashness of youth, conceit of rank). The second part involves a hazardous mission from one side of Africa to the other, in which Albert Schweitzer pops up, with some nicely scored Bach to boot. The perilous river journey has shades of Conrad but as nods rather than outright imitation.

Overall, the second volume is great - the extras are much better than those of the first volume. The only slight irritation is the bucking of the original chronology; Austria March 1917 is paired with Petrograd July 1917 while Barcelona May 1917 is set with Prague August 1917. This has been done I think to keep a `serious' pair together while the latter pair is comic in tone: the weighty end of Petrograd would have been ruined with the farcical Prague following it.

I can't wait to start on with volume three now, but have the feeling that volume two will remain the best one by far.


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