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The Co-Op's Got Bananas: A Memoir of Growing Up in the Post-War North
The Co-Op's Got Bananas: A Memoir of Growing Up in the Post-War North
by Hunter Davies
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rather disappointing, 16 May 2016
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Hunter Davies, in writing this book, certainly knew which audience he was targetting : those of us who grew up during the war years would have immediately noted the significance of the title. For the first time bananas were being sold in the shops, and in the case of our own greengrocers, a childhood memory is of seeing curious curved yellow objects simply strung along in a row along the top of the shop window uniquely for a decorative effect until one day the fruit itself arrived in a large straw-filled crate. "Run home and tell your mother" said the greengrocer when I had arrived to buy our usual "two pounds of potatoes and a pound of greens".

The title serves as a take-off point for Hunter Davies to look back through his childhood and adolescent years living in the north of England, right up to his time working as a journalist in London and finally his marriage to the future writer, Margaret Forster. There is a problem with his writing style though: it is as if he is being interviewed and is talking about his life spontaneously, stabbing a guess occasionally at what he believes he saw, heard, or happened to him. Sometimes his imprecise memories can be irritating: one of the following of (many) cases is an example. He thinks he remembers being in his pram when the Queen Elisabeth, or “was it the Queen Mary?” being launched on the Clydeside, but then “this couldn’t possibly be the case as how could I have remembered that”. Another event “could have been in June – or was it July?”; Was there an aerodrome where his father was posted to? If there was he can’t remember the name. These imprecise memories occur again and again in his book which makes one think that if he can’t remember them, why bother to write about them?! He refers back to his adolescence when he delighted in using words which would certainly have sent opprobrium crashing down onto his head if heard by an adult, but now feels free to use these same words, as if somehow he thinks they are rather “cool” in the mouth of an 80 year old.

Historically, of course there are some interesting references to what is was like growing up in the ‘50s, notably about the “dreaded 11+” (which, having failed it, brought back some rather poignant memories!). He also makes comparisons of how our lives have changed so much socially – from the disappearance of bus queues, to the arrival of a previously unspecified individual: “the teenager”. But I was surprised there was such a brief mention given to the arrival or Rock and Roll in this country and the impact it had on a generation who had never heard this sort of rhythm before, and which for most of us had an absolutely electrifying effect. His parents don’t come out of his remembrances very well: in fact he talks about them in a rather condescending manner. They must have been proud of their son’s achievements, but he seems much too critical of people who hadn’t had the same opportunities in life as himself. He certainly gave no credit to his mother (his father being bedridden) and without actually using the word “stupid” is what seems to be his underlying opinion of her. Both the writer Alan Bennett's "Untold Stories" (b. 1934) ) and the writer/chef Nigel Slater^s "Toast" (b. 1958) have done much better jobs in reminiscing about their respective childhoods in which they grew up in the same modest households.. Although Oscar Wilde said that “comparisons are odious” I can’t help but compare Nigel Slater's description of his mother’s attempts at cooking: “My mother is scraping a piece of burned toast out of the kitchen window, a crease of annoyance across her forehead. This is not an occasional occurrence. My mother burns the toast as surely as the sun rises each morning”. Like Alan Bennett they both know how to evoke personal memories through the use sometimes of beautiful and poetic language. I didn't have the same sense of real enjoyment in reading Hunter Davies book and even less of him using any "poetic language". It seemed to be more of an aide memoire of events which we just might have shared likving in war-time Britain. This doesn’t mean that he is not a competent writer, and the fact that he was a columnist who has written for some of the major newspapers bears witness to that, but although his book does have some interesting moments, it nevertheless comes across as someone whose sense of humour is not particularly subtle, and a literary style which lacks real flair and excitement.


Photography: Digital SRL Crash Course! - A Beginner's Guide to Understanding Digital Photography & Taking The Best Shots of Your Life
Photography: Digital SRL Crash Course! - A Beginner's Guide to Understanding Digital Photography & Taking The Best Shots of Your Life
by William Wyatt
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very poor indeed, 3 May 2015
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I am in absolute agreement with one of the reviewers here, which is that this is not a book but a pamphlet. Was it intended as part of a book - because at one point the writer talks about the colours in one of his favourite photographs, and in fact it is a very poor dark grey image, as indeed they all are. The last page talks about what will be mentioned in the "next chapters" - which chapters?! This is a very sloppy pamphlet indeed (pages unnumbered, in fact there are 30 of them) - the "headings" sometimes appearing at the bottom of a page before the text continues on the next so the printing of it seems to be very much of a rush job. As for being of much help I had to wait until chapter 3 to get an explanation of how an SLR camera functions - this should have been in "Chapter 1" and not "Chapter 3" as it is, after all, the whole point of this "course". Other initials are used in this publication which still remain a mystery to me, which is why I would have liked to see a list of all the settings one finds on a digital camera and an explanation of what they mean.

There could be some useful tips in this "book" for somebody who already has a fair amount of experience as a photographer with an SLR camera and, in fact, this could be true in view of the number of stars it has been awarded by a number of reviewers, but for me, as a first time buyer of one of these cameras, this so-called course was pretty valueless. What does come through is WW's enormous enthusiasm for what obviously is his passion, and he has made some rather nice observations, but, and the price is indeed cheap, it would be better to forget the economics and buy a book which has a more serious and helpful approach to the subject.


Watching War Films With My Dad
Watching War Films With My Dad
by Al Murray
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars In this respect then I was quite disappointed. It is only in the first short chapters ..., 4 July 2014
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I hadn't heard of Al Murray before reading this book (not surprising as I live in Switzerland). So probably unlike his fans, who maybe wanted to see another side of him (or more of the same) I bought it uniquely because of its title. In this respect then I was quite disappointed. It is only in the first short chapters of his book that he gets into what I thought was the whole point of it - i.e. talking about war films in the post war years. But as the book progressed, it started to become quite tedious for someone who, quite frankly, didn't really care about the technical specifications of the different tanks, artillery, aircraft, etc. and their being out of place in a particular film. This is geeky stuff and I would have thought would not have had that great an appeal for many of his readers. What was more accessible for us "non anoraks" was the description of the different battles, but we now found ourselves in history lesson territory as Al not only talks about the 20th Century battles, but probes right back into the past, where obviously his Oxford degree in history would have come in handy.. At this point we have got as far away from the title of the book as possible - unless he was seeing a war film about Heroditus (500 BC) with his dad. One of the gifts a stand-up comedian has is using "patter" in which he/her can ad-lib during a show, jumping from one subject to the other, and, along the way hoping of course to get as many laughs as possible. I felt the book reflected this - Al Murray didn't seem to have a specific plan when he set out to write his book, relying on inspiration as he went along and drawing on what is obviously a very broad intellectual baggage. Although many reviewers seem to have appreciated his book, I felt that it didn't know where it was going and, even why and, as such, I found it a rather unsatisfactory read, although I did occasionally - I must admit - have a few laughs as well.


Storm of Steel (Penguin Modern Classics)
Storm of Steel (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Ernst Junger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.49

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An unforgettable portrait of a World War One soldier, 28 Jun. 2014
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There have been comparisons made between “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque and “Storm of Steel”: which of these two books could really claim the title of being the best book to come out of the First World War? I think the books are different in two respects – the former is a moral indictment of the war, and the futility of it – the second concerns a man's attempt to push himself not only up to his limits, but beyond them. Only occasionally does one get the impression that the loss of life is senseless, although in later years Jünger was to speak about Germany's "ideology of war" as a "catastrophic mistake".

What makes this book such a magnificent read is the use of his language, and the translator, Michael Hofmann, has done a quite extraordinary job in this respect. The descriptions of the most horrific moments in battle, set against the times when there is a welcome relief from it, provide lines sometimes of unforgettable beauty. Take, for instance, his feelings the night before one of the greatest battles in La Somme. “On many a day of wrath we had fought on one and the same battlefield, and today once more the sun, now low in the Western sky, was to gild the blood of all, or nearly all”. This type of language to make poetic what was something absolutely horrific, is a thread running throughout the whole of the book. The same language can lead the reader through scenes of unimaginable suffering, while at the same time being uplifted by descriptions of moments when the smallest compensation is found in a dry dug-out, or an unexpected change in a monotonous diet. The sights and sounds of battle, are so brilliantly described, a sound-track could not do a better job of understanding what it was like to live through such terrifying ordeals. However, despite such terrible events, a sense of humour also runs through the book : I liked the description of cucumber being described as vegetarian sausage, or when, running out of cartridges, a fleeing "Tommie" is pelted with earth clods. What was so amazing about Ernst Jünger, is that he seemed to have retained his sanity, and well beyond, dying at the age of 102. With his outstanding intellect, he tried to to rationalise war, placing the blame on neither one nor the other side. He became friends with eminent authors, and was admired by heads of state. However, another person, whose political ideology, coupled with the identical battle experience to that of Jünger, and who, also, received the Iron Cross for his bravery, was not to forgive his victors so easily. Just twenty-five years later he was to lead the world into another cataclysmic conflict. By that time Junger had had enough of fighting on the battlefields, and was given work as an administrative officer in Paris. This book is a fine legacy to a quite exceptional person.


Butcher's Crossing (Vintage Classics)
Butcher's Crossing (Vintage Classics)
by John Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Join this thrilling journey!, 20 Feb. 2014
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If some authors might admit they they have never been to a certain location, let alone experienced the activities of the protagonists in their novels, this was certainly not the case with John Williams in his novel “Butcher's Crossing”. In his book we are taught – in six easy movements – how to skin a buffalo – how to survive in sub-zero temperatures (you stitch up one of the hides and stay in it until the blizzards have passed), and how to take stock slowly and deliberately of situations which are life threatening. The principal protagonist in the novel is Will Andrews, Harvard educated, but with a desire, not so much for adventure, but to seek situations in which he seeks to discover who he really is, he arrives in Butcher's Crossing, a small town in Kansas where he hopes to join up with a buffalo hunter. He is told to contact a certain Miller, who has been waiting for years for someone to come along and finance an expedition to a place where he knows that there are buffalo in their thousands. Agreeing to pay for the expedition, he sets off with Miller and two other men as they leave Butcher's Crossing en route for a remote valley in Colorado where a large number of buffalo still remain, contrary to what is happening on the open plains where they have all but been eliminated We can feel his pleasure as he eagerly throws himself into a cool stream after having trekked through the waterless plains for days, and share with him the loneliness of men with whom he has nothing in common, We experience his fear of being lost in a blinding white wilderness in the middle of the rocky mountains or his delight in seeing the colours of the changing seasons in the mountains and in the pine forests, but we also share his thoughts and how he strives to discover his true self, even if, at the end of the novel he still seems to be on a quest which will never be totally fulfilled. If the story has a slow start, it picks up along the way until we become totally absorbed in this thrilling and dangerous venture.

John Williams was born in 1922 - died in 1994, and although he might have received some fame, if not necessarily fortune, in the writing of his second book – Stoner - this book, written in 1960 received less acclaim, but has now, happily, been rediscovered. A great read – a great book.


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