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R. A. Williams (Cambridge, UK)

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Death of an Ocean: A Geological Borders Ballad
Death of an Ocean: A Geological Borders Ballad
by E. N. K. Clarkson
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't miss this one, 28 Dec. 2009
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I have a bone to pick with these authors. I got so absorbed in the book on Boxing Day that I forgot to switch on the Morecombe and Wise Christmas show and missed the whole thing! However, comics may come and comics may go but rocks go on for ever, and this is as good a rock book for the interested amateur as I've ever come across. At the start I was inclined to say 'Oh God, not ANOTHER trot through plate-tectonics-for-dummies'; but the introductory explanations are exceptionally clear, comprehensible and consistently relevant to the Borders themselves, as well as drawing some enlightening analogies with contemporary tectonic events elsewhere. The succeeding text draws a fascinating picture of Borders geology, covering but not confined to the visible traces of the Iapetus subduction and ending with an account of the most recent glaciation. The authors also pay generous tribute to the great field workers and schoars of the past - including some women, I'm pleased to say - whose pioneering work did so much to elucidate the geology of this area before the Big Idea of plate tectonics made it all make sense (though the latest researchers now seem to be busy making it obscure once again!). The photographs (unlike those in the companion volume on Scotland's volcanoes) are clear and illuminating, though it would have been nice if the authors had proof-read the lettering on the diagrams and made sure all the keys were complete (what are the blue bits in figuire 3.2?). The book is also a field guide with grid references etc. (Was it wise to give such precise directions to potential geological vandals? Or do they know the best places to vandalise anyway?) I'm going to the Borders on holiday next year and I shall certainly be clutching this book in my hot little hand. Perhaps if I'm very polite to the authors, they'll come and tell me exactly where to find THE JOIN at Dobb's Linn? I gather that there isn't a real golden spike in there...


The Xenophobe's Guide to the Swedes (Xenophobe's Guides)
The Xenophobe's Guide to the Swedes (Xenophobe's Guides)
by Peter Berlin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No need to be a xenophobe, 1 Feb. 2009
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I always wonder if people get put off by the 'xenophobe' in the titles in this series, because they all seem to be affectionate, if critical, portrayals of the nations concerned. This is an amusing and enlightening introduction to the Swedes, and gets more useful information into far fewer pages than many more pretentious guidebooks. I shall certainly pop it in my handbag before venturing in to Viking-land.


Fishing in Utopia: Sweden and the Future That Disappeared
Fishing in Utopia: Sweden and the Future That Disappeared
by Andrew Brown
Edition: Hardcover

15 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A good way to put yourself off Sweden, 11 Jan. 2009
This book will teach you a little about a very interesting subject, viz. modern Sweden, and a good deal about a very uninteresting subject, viz. Andrew Brown, who apart from having spent some time living in particularly insalubrious concrete slums in Sweden, and fishing in some much nicer bits of the country, doesn't seem to have led a very interesting life.

If you want to learn about Sweden (which is why I got hold of the book), then the Insight guide will give you twenty times more information in half as many pages, and provide a lot of pretty pictures into the bargain, not to mention telling you where to stay, eat, have fun, etc.

It's possible that you might buy the book for the sake of what it tells you about fishing, but since I've always considered this the most boring pastime in the world, I can't comment on that aspect because I skipped all the fishing pasages.


Kenneth Mckellar's Scotland/Folk Songs From Scotland
Kenneth Mckellar's Scotland/Folk Songs From Scotland
Price: £21.78

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incomparable voice, incomparable recordings, 31 Aug. 2008
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My dad had the original LPs of all McKellar's Scottish song recordings and so I grew up with them. Later I scoured second-hand shops for scratched and battered copies to call my own. Now at last I have a perfectly clear, handy, travel-anywhere set that really does this glorious singer justice. Such purity of tone, such clarity of diction, such adaptability to the lyrical, comic, tragic or dramatic potential of each song - I'll never get tired of them. Roll on the complete collection on CD!

It's true that not all the songs are of equal quality and that some tip over into sentimentality, but this is compensated for a thousand times by the real gems - Will Ye No Come Back Again, McGregor's gathering, Isle of Mull, and my favourite on this disc, 'Gin I were a baron's heir'.

Magnificent as McKellar's voice is, however, a tribute should be paid to the arrangers, most particularly Bob Sharples, who again and again, on this disk and on other early McK recordings,turns fine performances into exquisite ones. If McKellar's rendering of the Syke Boat Song has been hailed as being as 'good as opera', it's largely thanks to the orchestration. Similarly, his rendering of the lovely 'Mary Morrison' on the Burns disk is greatly enhanced by the setting, particularly the violin creating the 'dance' in verse 2. To be honest, the contrast with the very ordinary arrangements in McK's more recent recordings is stark: Sharples wins every time. All praise to him.

More reissues please!


Travels With Boogie: 500 Mile Walkies and Boogie Up the River in One Volume
Travels With Boogie: 500 Mile Walkies and Boogie Up the River in One Volume
by Mark Wallington
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irresistible!, 5 Aug. 2008
I've just read some excerpts from '500 Mile Walkies' to a group of friends staying together in Minehead and they roared with laughter and absolutely loved it - in fact they all vociferously demanded details of where they could get the book, so MW (if you're listening) I may have upped your sales a bit! As a dog-lover and dedicated coast path walker I am devoted to this book and re-read it regularly: there's nothing that cheers me up more effectively on a cold, grey winter evening than following once again that delightful journey with Boogie.

My five stars are strictly for '500 Mile Walkies'. I agree with other reviewers that 'Boogie up the River' is much less appealing, though still a worthwhile read. The situations are contrived, the characters much less agreeable - especially the odious Jennifer - and the whole thing compares very badly with its obvious inspiration, 'Three Men in a Boat'. There are some delightful moments, however, as with the American great-grandmother who 'likes to eat'.

'Pennine Walkies' is also an agreeable read. The dog obviously isn't the same Boogie, but the uneasy man-dog partnership is still amusing and the endearing dottiness that was so conspicuously lacking in the characters of 'Boogie up the River' is back again here. And I like the running jokes, such as the items of discarded female clothing that keep appearing by the side of the path...


Sullivan: Rose of Persia / Emerald Isle
Sullivan: Rose of Persia / Emerald Isle

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lovely to have it, but hoping for a professional recording some day, 21 July 2008
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As a lifelong raving G&S fan I was delighted to find I could get a CD of these two late Sullivan rarities. The 'Prince Consort' deserves every credit for making the recordings originally. However, both of them now show their age (early 1970s)and they are both, to my mind, amateurish. The orchestra is, putting it politely, mediocre, and does not allow full enjoyment of Sullivan's exquisite scoring; there are, for example, some excruciating errors in the brass and the violins frequently sound tinny. The tenor lead is of the I'm-being-slowly-strangled variety, so that you start clenching your teeth every time he approaches a top note. The other soloists are much better, particularly the ladies, and the chorus is tuneful and enthusiastic throughout.

As for the pieces themselves, I'm enchanted with both scores, but as regards the libretti, all I can say is 'Come back WSG, all is forgiven!' To put Hood on the same level as Gilbert is absurd; there isn't a trace of Gilbert's wit in either piece (unless you get it in the dialogue, which, knowing Hood from 'Merrie England', I very much doubt); nor does Hood ever emulate Gilbert's crisp and varied metres or his rich, ingenious and amusing rhymes. 'I am the sultan, the sultan am I' is about as good as it gets. What's more, neither piece seems to contain any of the frequently cruel but always amusing satire which so stimulated Sullivan in the Savoy operas, even if he complained about it from time to time. As a result, the lyrical Sullivan is beautifully represented here, but not the humorous Sullivan who so ingeniously chuckles and jests his way through scores like 'Pinafore' and 'The Mikado'.

Nevertheless these are both highly entertaining pieces that must look very pretty on stage. It's high time both were re-recorded by professional companies - which might also have the salutary effect of encouraging amateur groups to try one of these late gems as a change from the fifty millionth 'Pirates' or whatever.
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Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland
Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland
by B. G. J. Upton
Edition: Hardcover

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Exciting story, pity about the fuzzy volcanoes, 15 Aug. 2006
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This is an account of the contribution of volcanic action to Scotland's landscapes, written by a specialist for non-specialists. Accordingly there is an introduction to vulcanology which anyone who knows a bit about the subject can skip. There are also explanations of geological terms, but as these are scattered through the text rather than listed at the end (though there is an index for them), they can be irritatingly slow to find if you want to refresh your memory - as you probably will, since the author can't help getting at least mildly technical in many places.

Unlike most geology books, which start in deep time and work their way towards the present, this book does the reverse, starting with the most recent (Tertiary) volcanoes of the West, which are naturally the best preserved, and working back to the really ancient stuff. In one way this is a good idea, since it's much easier to identify the more recent features. In another it isn't, owing to the unavoidable fact that the landscape developed in reverse order, and to understand the causes of a phenomenon you really have to know what happened before. This leads to some clumsy cross-referencing.

Having grouched a bit, I have to say that for an amateur geologist like me the book is pitched just right. I read it practically at a sitting and it makes me yearn to go and see some more of the relevant landscapes. The only big disappointment is the extremely poor quality of the colour photos. Some are so fuzzy that the feature they are supposed to illustrate is scarcely visible. In these days of fast and easy colour reproduction this is really inexcusable, especially in view of the substantial price tag.


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