Friday, 13 May 2011

Blogger Buzz: Blogger is back

Blogger Buzz: Blogger is back: "What a frustrating day. We’re very sorry that you’ve been unable to publish to Blogger for the past 20.5 hours. We’re nearly back to normal..."

Thursday, 12 May 2011

“Learning to be happy made me rich!”

Just over ten years ago Sue Stone’s life was at rock bottom. Faced with business collapse, marriage breakdown and £250,000 worth of debt, happiness was the furthest thing from her mind.

Some time before then things had been rosy. Sue was happily married, had three wonderful children, was managing director of her own manufacturing company and lived with all the trappings of wealth and success. Then, within the space of just a few short months, her world came crashing down around her.

Sue says, “Things weren’t going well in my marriage and I took my focus off the business. Very quickly, things started falling apart. I will never forget the day I realised that we were up to the limit on every single credit card, business and personal account. Literally, all I had left was £10 in my purse.”

Unable to face what was happening, Sue’s husband simply walked out of her life leaving her to bring up their three children single handedly, try to rescue the business and to fend off the mortgage company who were threatening to repossess her house and make her homeless.

Sue says, “When I woke up the next morning I realised that if I carried on the way I was going I would lose everything. I was not prepared to accept that this was going to be ‘it’.” Instead, she set about discovering ways to improve her life. She read every self help book she could get her hands on and made a conscious, decisive choice that she would implement what she learned into every aspect of her daily life. Sue’s relentless pursuit of happiness led her to spend several years researching the incredible power of our thoughts, our subconscious mind and the astonishing power of our feelings.

Sue’s work on herself and the reprogramming of her thinking had incredible results. By removing all negative thoughts, focusing only on the positives in her life and consistently visualising her ultimate dreams for the future, Sue slowly but surely saw her life transform into one of abundance and joy. She was able to leave the dark days of fear, debt and unhappiness behind her and focus instead on all that she did have to be grateful for and the excitement her future had to offer. She wrote a book about her journey in 2007 Love Life, Live Life and at the same time decided to dedicate her life and career to sharing her new found knowledge with others.

Sue now lives and breathes all she has learned and works nationally and internationally where her clientele includes celebrities and top businesspeople. She is regularly invited to speak at events and conferences about her experiences and contributes to TV, radio and press. Sue passionately believes that the innate ability to experience abundant happiness, wealth and success lies within all of us. We just need to know how to access it! Sue says, “I used to believe that wealth brings happiness. Now I know the opposite is true: if true happiness comes first, wealth and abundance will follow.”

Sue will be featured in the latest series of Channel 4’s successful series The Secret Millionaire on 24th May. In the show, Sue travels to one of the most deprived areas of Coventry where she goes undercover as a trainee radio reporter and goes to Radio Hillz FM and out on the streets with Kervin Julien - a former drug addict turned charity worker to witness the plight of the city’s homeless. It was a particularly emotional journey for Sue, who says, “It reminded me of just how close I came to losing it all and how easy it would have been to become homeless myself. It was an extremely humbling experience.”

Sue is author of the best selling happiness book, Love Life, Live Life. Her website can be found at

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The Ship That Rocked the World. The true story of Radio Caroline

Back in 1964 Ronan O'Rahilly, a young Irish businessman, decided to launch Radio Caroline, probably themost famous so-called offshore radio pirate of all kinds.

There have been several stories published about the early days of Radio Caroline by people who were in on the early days. Each one laying claim to be the person who was 'really' the one who was closest to the heart of things.

This book by Tom Lodge, on of the earliest DJs on the station, has a ring of authenticity about it. It tells how a young man who came from a family steeped in the history of the early days of radio (his grandfather, Sir Oliver Lodge was the actual inventor of radio, not the upstart pretender, Marconi!)  and who, after a public school education, spent an adventurous life and somewhat tragic life (he was forced to watch a friend die of starvation)  working as a fisherman and hunter in Canada before securing a job with CBC, and, after a chance encounter with Ronan O'Rahilly in a pub in London one wet and rainy day, soon found himself onboard the first Radio Caroline ship the MV Caroline, which later became Radio Caroline North.

The book is a well-written account of the early days of Radio Caroline, how Radio Caroline helped to change the UK music scene and also helped to being about the cultural revolution that swept through Britain in the mid to late 1960s.

The book is well-illustrated and at 242 pages is a good and fascinating read.  It does contain several irritating mistakes (something is described as a "palatial palace") and there are several places where the editor failed to spot rogue punctuation marks, but this does not take away the fact that it is, as I say, a good read. The forward is by Steven van Zandt a member of Bruce Stringsteen's E Street Band.

The book also tells how Tome Lodge (a married man with three boys) helped to change the face of the musical recording industry in Canada and eventually became a Zen Master living in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.

Tom Lodge relates one tail that jars. He relates how MI5 nearly blew the Radio Caroline ship up by using the SAS who would have been parachuted on to the ship. The person who would have been responsible for this was an MI5 agent stationed in Southern Ireland, who revealed the plan in later years to Tom Lodge.

An MI5 agent stationed in the Republic of Ireland?  Surely that would have been a job for MI6? And the idea of parachuting SAS officers on to a ship (with a tall mast) sounds a little far-fetched. As does the reason for the MI5 officer refusing to take the job on, the fact that the SAS officers were all between 18 to 22 and so al listened to Radio Caroline.

The fact is that as a maritime matter it would almost certainly have been the Royal Marine SBS who would have taken on such a job and they would have approached the ship by sea. And they would not have refused the commission, no matter what the ages of the officers involved. I believe that it is possible that when Tom Lodge met "Colin" Colin was one of those strange Walter Mitty types who invent their own back story, or that Colin was genuine and that he had been taking orders from someone in the British government who had taken it upon themselves to mount an operation to take out Radio Caroline that was not officially sanctioned, hence the decision to employ the SAS rather than the SBS. 

The book costs $21.50 and is published by the Bartleby Press,

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Tied With An Easy Thread

There are many books of children who were abandoned, people escaping from Nazi persecution, coping with poverty, prejudice, and loss. There are not so many that end with a large inheritance, followed by an amazing discovery ten years after the subject's death. Rarely do you find all these in the true chronicle of one woman's life.

When she was four years old in 1917, Ruth's German mother abandoned her and her brother in a Christian children's home in Dresden. When her Jewish father came there to reclaim his children two years later, Ruth was influenced by the matron to reject him. She never saw him again. At fourteen she left the children's home to become a Haustochter, and spent the next eleven years in various domestic posts. Despised as a half Jew, she escaped from Nazi Germany just eight weeks before the beginning of WWII, to become a refugee in England.

This book, written by her daughter, chronicles Ruth's life in Germany, England and Wales. Struggling against poverty all her life, her fortune was dramatically changed by a very large inheritance from a totally unexpected source when she was eighty two.

Throughout her life she regretted her rejection of her father, and expressed a desire to know what had become of him. This led to her daughter's ten year search, a DNA test, and an astonishing discovery.

In a recent edition of "Look up your Genes" on BBC Radio Wales, the presenter described this as '... a story that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.' Kristina Taylor wants the story to be read and passed on so that new generations can hear Ruth's testament of events in the twentieth century that affected her so deeply, and impacted on the next generations of her family.

The book is published by Authors on Line.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Wonderfully-illustrated new book celebrates 50 years of XH558, the last flying Vulcan

All profits will go to support XH558 in her biggest flying season ever.

The history of one of the world’s most popular aircraft, XH558 the last flying Vulcan, is celebrated in a lavishly-illustrated new book published to celebrate her 50th year. Researched and written by the Vulcan to the Sky Trust, 50 Years of Vulcan XH558 uncovers her history from construction, through all her many roles, her retirement from RAF service and eventual restoration to flight.

Printed on high quality art paper, it is packed with rare photographs and fascinating facts, culminating in the nail-biting story of her restoration and an insight into the challenges of returning one of Britain’s greatest aircraft to the skies.

There are anecdotes from the pilots who fly her and the engineers who care for her, with first-hand accounts of some of the most dramatic periods in history and the critical role of the Vulcan type. Squadron Leader Martin Withers DFC delivers one of the most dramatic stories, documenting the bombing of the Port Stanley airstrip during the Falklands conflict complete with an insight into the incredible logistics and planning that made it possible.

“From the first designs through to flying her today, it’s a story of British endeavour that we hope will inspire future generations of engineers and aviators,” says Vulcan to the Sky Trust chief executive officer Dr Robert Pleming.

“Carefully-researched content, gorgeous photography and outstanding design make this a really lovely item and a wonderful addition to any library.”

The book is available for £24 (including post and packing) from the Vulcan To The Sky Trust website and all proceeds will go towards helping the last flying Vulcan reach the 2011 display season with stable finances. £350,000 is needed by the end of May, of which just £120,000 has so far been raised.Operating the last flying Vulcan, to aviation safety standards that are amongst the highest in the world, costs around £2million a year, almost all of which is generously donated by the public or earned from the Trust’s growing commercial activities.

To purchase the 50th Anniversary Book, please click here:
The online store recently acquired an intriguing new line: magnetic bookmarks. Each one is printed with the same beautiful picture of XH558 featured on the cover of the 50th Anniversary book so would make a stylish complement to your personal copy . Vulcan magnetic bookmarks can be purchased here:

Fly your name with the Vulcan
Until the end of May, you can add your name to the Summer Season Plaque that will be mounted on the last flying Vulcan’s historic bomb-bay doors and seen by everyone taking a tour at her home or on the ground at airshows, and staying with her for the rest of her public life. You can sign-up here:

Join the Vulcan community
Readers can sign-up for the weekly eNewsletter at:
Join the Vulcan Facebook community at:
To find-out how to help XH558 remain The Last Flying Vulcan, visit
To find out where to see the last flying Vulcan, visit

(EDITOR: My Brother-in-Law was an Avionics Engineer who spent much of his RAF career looking after the electronic systems and wiring looms of the RAF Vulcan.)

Broadcasts from the Blitz. How Edward R. Murrow helped lead America into the war

This book, by Philip Seib, is an extremely well-written and well-researched book into the part of the life of famed American journalist and broadcaster Edward R. Murrow where he spent time and effort  (at considerable cost to himself and his very supportive wife, Janet, who worked tirelessly to arrange for comfort parcels to be sent from America to Britain) countering the, at times, rabid isolationism of such people as US ambassador Joseph Kennedy and one time war hero and suspected Nazi collaborator Charles Lindberg who felt that America should not join in the fight against Nazi oppression.   

Seib tells how Murrow became the true and firm friend and confidant of powerful people on both sides of the Atlantic like Roosevelt and Churchill how he used his reports back to the States to show that far from being on the point of collapse and surrender Britain would fight on, but needed help with, as Churchill so ably put it, the tools to do the job.

Murrow put himself at great personal danger both in the bombed cities in Britain, including London, during the Blitz and above Germany during air raids as an observer on RAF bombers.

By chance Murrow was in America when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Had Roosevelt known in advance of the planned attack? Murrow was most emphatic on the point. By the shocked and pained reaction of Roosevelt and others at the attack it was plain to Murrow that they had not.

The book briefly touches on other aspects of the professional life of Murrow post Word War Two he was also famous for the pointing out the problems with Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Un-American Activities Committee and helping to bring an end to the arguably un-American activities of McCarthy.

The book is published in hardback by Potomac Books at $24.95.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Silent Fields

This book is not an easy book to read, for it makes grim reading, but it is a book that I can thoroughly recommend.

It is a long, comprehensive and detailed book by Roger Lovegrove detailing the long decline of the wildlife of Britain.

I believed that the decline of wildlife in Britain was a result of the overuse of chemical fertilisers and chemical pesticides in Britain after the war. And whilst it is true that this has certainly exacerbated the situation, it was not the start of the decline, not by a long way. The book details the long and systematic destruction of the wildlife of Britain. Lovegrove has meticulously researched a diverse number of historical sources dating back to the Tudor times to the present day.

The records show that the history of the persecution of some of what were supposedly the best-loved species of  wildlife (and, indeed amongst these, some of the rarest) has left our countryside all the poorer. It points out how churches took part in the most barbaric and ruthless extermination of many, many species on the vague idea that maybe they might be responsible for the loss of some crops.

 It contains details of infamous huntsmen like Charles St. John. Lovegrove quite clearly despises Charles St. John. And with good reason, too. For he is revealed by the research of Lovegrove to be a despicable hypocrite who: "hid his wanton killing behind crocodile tears and pretensions of moral respectability. He had an insatiable appetite for killing and was responsible, among many other despicable acts, for the final elimination of the Osprey in Sutherland."  

Other creatures destroyed include the Bullfinch, the bat, Red Kite, Brown Hare,  House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows, etc. In fact, many villages had Sparrow Clubs and they were paid for the number of Sparrows that they killed. Church wardens kept detailed records and these records helped Lovegrove in his research.

One quote in the book reveals how one observer was watching the so-called glorious spectacle of the Sparrow shooting, yet felt pity when he look down and saw the birds, blasted and twisted at his feet. A fine example of hypocrisy if ever there was one!  

This book makes uncomfortable reading. It seems that our ancestors had the following rules regarding wildlife: If it flies, shoot it (or trap it) and if it runs, crawls or walks, trap it (or shoot it).

It is published in hardback by Oxford University Press in hardback and is 404 pages long. It is well-illustrated with photographs (one of a group of badger baiters in the 1920s) and many line drawings and maps showing, for example, a map showing parishes killing Bullfinches in the 17 and 18 centuries.
There are also detailed appendixes showing tables of 'vermin' payments taken from churchwardens' accounts. The book costs £25.00.

Simon Crump. A novelist like no other

My wife read it and said: "You should read this book (Neverland) by Simon Crump, it's got a very black sense of humour. You'll enjoy it."

I did. It was. I did. 

Neverland by Simon Crump. It's a very novel Novel. Is it like a collection of interlinked short stories, as some people believe? Yes. Well, no. Not, quite. It's more a collection of interlinked ideas, instead.

By the way, the dead hamster unicorn featured in the novel? I'm not entirely certain it was. Dead, that is.
Simon Crump takes several different ideas and places them in a very unique and out of place context. You can imagine Michael Jackson and Uri Geller together. (They are or rather, were friends in real life) You can imagine them being together in a shopping mall. You can imagine them having an argument. But then place them and their argument (and the stunning consequences thereof) in the Meadowhall shopping mall in Sheffield and it's as if your favourite aunt has taken your jumper, unpicked the stitches and turned it into a really funky Dr. Who Scarf. But not quite like that, perhaps.
Simon Crump decided to write a novel about Michael Jackson. It took him three years to complete. And -apparently this is true- four hours after he had finished writing it, Michael Jackson was dead.
Simon Crump's writing style is laconic, yet even so, there is a moving, other-worldly poetic feel to his writing.

He writes with a refreshing sympathy for all of his characters, Michael Jackson, Lamar who was Jackson's assistant and former Elvis bodyguard, The Broad, The Broad's lunatic husband and Michael Jackson's grandmother, to name but a few.
Simon Crump's subject matter is sometimes unpleasant, but it is of a realistic unpleasantness, and there is nothing gratuitous in his writing. Weird, odd, bizarre enough to make the Fortean Times look like a Haynes Car Manual, yes. But never gratuitous.
Other novels by Simon Crump are My Elvis Blackout and Twilight Time. Which have received rave or raving reviews, depending on the point of view of the reader.

(EDITOR: A different version of this review was published at Ciao)

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

One Red Paperclip

One Red Paperclip, by Kyle MacDonald was a genuine worldwide sensation, even before Kyle MacDonald had written one word of the book. Because, it seemed that just about everyone in the world had heard all about Kyle MacDonald and his one red paperclip.

The story about Kyle MacDonald is basically this.

Kyle MacDonald was looking for a job. Well, he should have been looking for a job, but somehow all he was doing was looking at a pile of resumes he should have sent out, feeling guilty that he was, basically, living off his girlfriend who he lived with. He wanted a house for them both. But how could he get one, with no permanent job?

What could he do? He was getting some gigs around Canada and the United States of America helping promote a special device that was designed to stop restaurant tables wobbling. (Great invention. I think it should be made mandatory for ALL eating places!) But that wasn't getting enough money to enable Kyle to pay his way at home. Kyle seemed to be a bit of a slacker. Well, perhaps if not a slacker, then he showed certain slacker tendencies!

As he sat there, he thought of a game he used to play as a child. It was the Bigger and Better game. The rules of the game were simple. You had to try to swap something you had for something that was bigger and better and owned by someone else.

Could he play something similar in adulthood? This set him thinking. What could he trade? Then he saw it.

Just one red paperclip holding together his resume. (That's a CV to us British folk!)
Why not swap that for something bigger and better?

Emboldened by the sheer scope of his idea, he put a posting on a website and soon swapped his red paperclip for a wooden pen which was made in the form of an animated fish.
After that, there was no stopping him!

He swapped the pen for a homemade doorknob, the doorknob for a camping stove and 14 swaps later (and some hilarious and some moving adventures all over the USA and Canada, he ended up (one year later) with a house for his girlfriend and himself.

The book contains some of Kyle's homespun wisdom, and although this does sometimes wear a little bit thin, generally they do add somewhat to the flavour of the book. And, after all, they do show some of the reasons as to why Kyle did what he did. Kyle is obviously a deeply thoughtful young man.

His girlfriend figures in the book (as one might expect) as does the workshirt of Kyle's brother. Which also leads to another swap that helped speed things along. Quite literally.

During his swaps Kyle meets and hangs out with Alice Cooper and actor Corbin Bernsen, and makes what seems on the face of it an utterly ludicrous swap, only to see it fit in with a rather weird foible of Corbin Bernsen, and thus proved to be a pivotal swap on the way to Kyle and his girlfriend getting that house.

The book is well written, well illustrated with photographs of the various swaps, swappers and swappees and is well worth buying. 

The Origin of Everday Things

The Origin of Everday Things does exactly what it says, It details the origins of many everyday items and things that you and I probably take for granted.

Researched written and edited by the team of Johnny Acton, Tania Adams and Matt Packer, the book details well in excess of 400 everyday items, and gives some pretty comprehensive anecdotes and tales about them all.

The book is filled to the brim with some highly entertaining and fascinating facts and details. For example did you know that the first aerosol dispenser can was invented in 1899 by German scientists Helbling and Pertsch?

Or that the Babylonians devised a prototype and extremely clever form of air conditioning?

That the first car vehicle safety airbag was developed in the early 1950s by American naval engineer, John W. Hetrick?

Or how many of us knew that the first automatic fire alarm and smoke detector was developed by a Birmingham electrical engineer called George Darby? And which highly unusual component was used as the heat detector in this amazing device that was, arguably, years ahead of itself? You will find the answer on page 20 of this highly enjoyable and most entertaining book.

Also, discover the location of the first bank ATMs, how bowling was developed, how the first electrical burglar alarm was invented as long ago as in 1852, how World War 1 played a part in women's beauty in the 1920s and how Rugy developed into the sport that we know today.

The book is copiously illustrated with very well executed line drawings and covers everything in alphabetical order from aerosol cans right through to Zipper, nearly 320 pages later.

It is hardback, and published by Think Books at a cover price of £14.99. 

Newton a Very Short Introduction

Newton a Very Short Introduction, is exactly what it says. A very short introduction in to the life of one of Britain's greatest scientific minds of all times, Sir Isaac Newton.

The book is small, only comprising 144 pages, so the writing style is brief. The book is part of the Oxford University Press "A Very Short Introduction" series of books covering not only biographies on figures such as Newton, Marx, Socrates, Descartes, Hume, Nietzsche and Buddha, it also covers historical and philosophical themes such as The Celts, Journalism, Stuart Britain, Roman Britain, Ancient Philosophy, etc., etc.

But what of the book on Newton?

We find that he was described by people who knew him as a very moral man, a man who hated and detested persecution, who loved the concept of mercy to both beast and mankind, and who was often moved to shed a tear when a sad or moving tale was related to him.

However, other people, we read, had different views of Newton. He was described as an heretic. In fact, he was thrown out of Cambridge for his allegedly heretical views.

We also read of a breakdown of some type that he suffered in the early 1690s.
The first writings on Newton were by the husband of Newton's half-niece, Catherine, John Conduitt. These put Newton in a very favourable light.

However, as is often the case, others came forward with very different versions of the life of Sir Isaac Newton.
So, was Sir Isaac Newton a saint or a sinner? A good man or a monster to people who, perhaps, he didn't agree with?

In his work, Newton a Very Short Introduction, Rob Iliffe makes a very good effort at trying to disentangle the man from the myth and to establish which, if any of the criticisms of the man actually held water.
As well as covering Newton's scientific work and research it also touches on his religious philosophies and religious researches and his role as probably one of the last great alchemists.

This book will be of very great interest and value to students who need to find out about Sir Isaac Newton and people who are interested in the biographies of great scientists of the ages.

It is priced at £6.99 ISBN978-0-19-929803-7 

Murder at Deviation Junction

Jim Stringer always wanted to be an engine driver but a series of unfortunate events (described in the previous books in the series) robs him of this ambition and ruins his chances of working as an engine driver.

However, he is spotted as a good man with a keen eye and a sharp mind so he becomes a railway policeman, a detective in the force.

It is December in the year of 1909. There is heavy snow in Yorkshire that winter, so it is of no surprise when a train runs smack into a snowdrift and becomes stuck.

What does cause a surprise is when the gang of railworkers who are given the task of clearing the line of snow discover a body hidden at the side of the track.

It should be a simple case, but it all goes terribly, horribly wrong. And Jim's life is put in grave peril.

Why does the case involve a giant steel works?

Who is the murdered man? What connection is there to an exclusive railway dining club that mysteriously and abruptly ceased operating sometime prior to the discovery of the body?

Why does the case interest a reporter from a railway magazine, who seems to know more about the case than he should? And what, exactly, is the reporter so anxious to find?

The novel takes Jim Stringer away from his warm home and his loving wife and child and the familiar surroundings of of the police office at York station to an appointment with a grim and grizzly fate on the be-snowed Scottish Highlands.

But who can Jim Trust? The strange Scottish giant called Small David? The reporter, Bowman?

The novel sets a cracking pace and Andrew Martin paints excellent word pictures to set the scenes of story. So well that you'll swear you can smell the smoke and steam and feel the chill that gnaws at the bones.

The list price is £10.99, but I paid considerably less with Amazon.
ISBN 978-0-571-22965-9

Monday, 2 May 2011

Elsie and Mairi Go to War

This book by Diane Atkinson is the story of how two women find themselves working together in a field station so close to the enemy lines in World War 1 Belgium that they were subjected to enemy bombardments and gas attacks and could, at times, see and speak with German soldiers in their positions.

Elsie Knocker was a divorcee and Mairi Chisholm a well-to-do young lady from the Clan Chisholm. Elsie's childhood should have been a relatively prosperous one but circumstances conspired to destroy her young life, whilst Mairi's life was one of comfort and luxury.

What brought them together was a love of motorbikes and motorbike racing. And the need for volunteer ambulance drivers and volunteer nurses in the theatre of war.

It is a story of excitement, adventure, danger, death and misery caused by the first truly industrial scale war that the world has ever seen, of bureaucratic inertia and red tape, of petty jealousies, of ultimately breathtaking betrayal and a friendship forged in the heat of battle and probably destroyed by one careless 'white' lie and what can only be seen as more than one example of high-handed religious and social intolerance and pridefulness.

Diane Atkinson's book is an extremely well researched work, and she is meticulous in citing her sources. It is a very well written account of how two women, often by themselves, and woefully under-resourced, relying on public fund-raising, made a tremendous difference to the lives of soldiers, many of them severely traumatised and badly wounded in the hell that was World War One.

The book also reveals some interesting facts. That, despite later attempts by some authors to whitewash events, stories of German atrocities against French and German civilians and allied troops were not merely allied propaganda and that, pre-World War 1, there was a thriving and growing sub-culture of women's motorcycle racing, in which Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm had both played an active and important part.

The book relates the somewhat different lives of the two women after the war and, sadly, reveals how and why their friendship did not survive the war. It is an unfortunate fact that this does not really reflect well at all on one of the two women.

Published by Preface.

ISBN-13: 978-1848091337

The Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations

The Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is the little brother to the better-known Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

The Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is a small volume, but still found to be stuffed full of useful quotations from the great, the good, the witty, the clever and some ordinary folk who said at least one thing in their life that was memorable enough for someone to write down or record in some way and for other people to say: "Gosh, I wish I had said that!"

The book is 476 pages in length and, although small, is, at 476 pages, quite a well-padded little volume. It is relatively easy to hold, yet I can't help wonder if it could have been just a few centimetres larger? Still, that's a minor quibble and a point that does not, ultimately, detract from the over all enjoyment and usability of this small volume.

The forwards to the first and fourth editions are included and in them the editor Susan Ratcliffe goes some way to explain the purpose of the book.

There is then a list of subjects that the book covers literally from A to Z. (Did you see what I did, there? a rather pointless and only marginally funny pun. Sorry!) From Ability right through to Youth. So in truth, it is not, exactly from A to Z.

Next comes the quotations, followed by a highly useful index of those people who are quoted within the tightly packed work.

There are quotes you will probably be familiar with, quotes which, now you know them, you will remember for the rest of your life and quotes which will serve a purpose in a wedding speech, a magazine article, a college essay or the like.

And for those of us who like to trawl through books like The Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, there are nuggets of pure gold and some that, although being nuggets of pure gold, are poignant and somewhat ironic.

For example in the section The Body artist, art lecturer and musician Ian Drury is quoted as saying:
"The leg, a source of much delight,
which carries weight and governs height,"

had problems with his legs due to suffering polio as a child. He sometimes had to take to the stage wearing leg irons in order to support his limb when it was particularly bad. (A minor point is that Susan Ratcliffe lists Drury as a British rock singer. He was, of course, much more than that!)

Also, we find that the Eton Boating Song lyrics were written by English poet William Cory.
There's a poem about entrails by poet Connie Bensley and you can find the source of the saying about 'death and taxes.'

The Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is a fantastic little book and will make an ideal gift for the student, the author, journalists or anyone who uses words in their day to day life. Well, just about anyone, I suppose.

The published price is £9.99 ($15.95 USA) but will be available for much less on Amazon.
The ISBN is 978-0-19-954330-4.

African History a Very Short Introduction

African History a Very Short Introduction, is a book in the "a Very Short Introduction" series of books from the Oxford University Press.

African History a Very Short Introduction, by John Parker and Richard Rathbone is a very interesting book.

The authors themselves point out that their task would be a difficult one. After all, it is known, or widely accepted, at any rate, that mankind originated in Africa some time ago. Some experts say 6,000,000 years ago. So... a history on that scale would be a stupendous and most daunting task!

The authors ask many interesting questions. What, exactly, is history? Can the Westernised idea of what history is be transferred to Africa? The authors do raise the very interesting point about oral histories, which are an important part of the cultures of many civilisations, including those in Africa who still value the old ways.

The book also deals with the concept of slavery and wonders if, as part of the history of Africa, the history of slaves and their descendants living in -for example, America- should be included in the history of Africa? An interesting concept, which the authors do not take very far. When I read this point in the book I realised if this were to be taken literally, as mankind originated in Africa and then populated the Earth, surely the whole 6,000,000 years of the history of the world's population should be considered as part of the history of Africa?

The book, for its size, is profusely illustrated with photographs, drawings and maps, all of which are very helpful to bring them to life.

Sadly, what history is related is that of cultural genocide, greed, indifference, hostility from outsiders and problems caused by the interference of people who thought they knew best.

It is a thoughtful and though-provoking little work which will be idea for students of the history of Africa (both ancient and modern) and there is an extremely useful guide to further reading on the subject.

The book is £6.99 the ISBN is 978-0-19-280248-4.  

Horrible Histories the Mad Miscellany

Horrible Histories the Mad Miscellany is another of the excellent books in the Horrible Histories library of books.

The book is precisely what it says it is: A distinctly dotty sort of a book which contains many and varied pieces of historical facts and information.

The book is separated into 31 different sections. Although the last section is a disclaimer which points out several key facts, such as an item in the book that is, in fact, a fiction, not a faction (sorry...) and there is also a very handy index, too.

What do we learn from Horrible Histories the Mad Miscellany? That the Romans used entire packs of attack dogs, which were dressed in canine suits of armour and then let off to do battle. Now, I must admit, I hadn't known that!

There's a section on gruesome games. It also helpfully points out why Romans called foreigners barbarians. Which I think I'd heard before, but can't swear to it.

It gives a page to the Roman gladiators, with each different type of gladiator illustrated with a very helpful line drawing. For those of us who believed that a 'gladiator is a gladiator' the news that there were, in point of fact, twelve different types or classes of gladiators might come as something of a surprise!

Pirates and their parrots also get their own section, as do some rather remarkable pirate flags. Some like those of Calico Jack and Henry Every both being variations on the traditional skull and crossbones, looked rather menacing, whilst others (Black Beard, for one) looked faintly risible, to be honest.

Also included is a remarkable set of rules by which pirates lived. Apparently the musicians on pirate ships were allowed Sundays as a day of rest. (Who knew pirate ships had musicians?)

There are also sections on historical hangings, murders and assassinations including the somewhat unsporting way that the Vikings dealt with Edmund, King of England. Although not mentioned in the book, I believe they performed the Blood Eagle on him. (Just check it out on Google...)

There's also duels that were deadly or dull, or sometimes both, and duels involving duelling women.
Historically greedy people are listed and seems to include mostly Roman Emperors. Funny, that!

There's also a section on medical matters including the cure for the common cold from the Middle Ages which called for mustard and onions to be inserted in the nose.

There's also a section of historically interesting rhymes including one about the Kaiser, and one about the murderer Mary Ann Cotton.

The book costs £9.99 from the Scholastic Press (ISBN 0-439-96803-8).

The Blackpool High Flyer

Driving or firing the Blackpool High Flyer was a plum job. The train went cross country from Yorkshire right through Lancashire to the North West coast of England, and the town of Blackpool.

But this was to be no ordinary journey. Jim Stringer, the steam detective, had thought that with his return from London, all the dangers and problems of being a railway detective were long gone and all in the past. But fate had different ideas!

It is only the quick reactions of Clive, the driver, that stopped a terrible catastrophe. Someone had left a millstone on the railway line. And one of the 512 passengers on the Whit Sunday Excursion Train to Blackpool dies as a result of the crash. Or did she die as a result of the crash? How, exactly, did she die? And who would have had a motive to kill her?

Was there a connection with the works outing that was taking place on the train? And if there was, what was the connection?

Jim Stringer thought that it was too much of a coincidence for the millstone to be placed on the track and for just one passenger out of 512 people on board to have died.

But how can Jim Stringer, now a former railway policeman, back in his more normal role of being an engine fireman, find out what had actually transpired?

If the same person had caused the death of the woman, how could they also have been responsible for the placing of the millstone on the railway line? And for what reason would they have wanted the woman passenger dead and what possible motive could they have had for placing the millstone on the railway line?

And who is it that means to see that this will be the last case that Jim Stringer, steam detective, will ever investigate? Are they linked to the mysterious person who left the millstone on the railway line? Or the person who had murdered the woman, if they were not the same person? Or is there another reason that Jim Stringer's life is in danger?

This is a very satisfying mystery novel as it does contain several concurrent mysteries. And all is certainly not what it seems!

It is written by Andrew Martin and published by Faber and Faber, the paperback version costs £7.99.

Where on Earth Can I...?

Where on Earth Can I...? tells you where you can do lots of different, interesting things, all over the world.

It is a fascinating book as it gives you many interesting and fantastic ideas of places you can go and visit and wondrous things that you can do in many different parts of the world.
It is separated into five different chapters. These are:

Natural Wonders
Animal Kingdom
Thrills and Adventures
Great Creations
Out of this World Experiences

There is then a further section on useful travel links, including a list of potentially useful websites.

Although the book is about fantastic and wondrous places you can visit and the exciting things you can do whilst you are there, the really curious thing is that there is not one illustration in the entire book! No photographs! Not even a single, solitary line drawing!

Even though one of the places to visit is described as being: "particularly photogenic". I am sorry, we, the readers, just wouldn't know about that. We haven't seen it, so do not know.

And there is a somewhat puzzling and bizarre omission in a book which is a travel guide. For although the author tells us of the excitement, the wonder and the joy of visiting or participating in -for example- an ancient goldmine, joining the running of the bulls, taking a tree top walk in Australia, staying in a rainforest reserve, seeing a synchronised firefly display, flying in a World War 2 Spitfire, visiting castles, or various film locations, dining in an underwater restaurant, etc., etc., the author -inexcusably, in my opinion, omits to mention the exact locations of these places, opening hours, booking information or even the contact details!

It's a curious book, interesting, but the rather shocking omissions will stop it from becoming a great book and a standard work for travellers, which is a pity.

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary

Samuel Johnson's Dictionary was not the first attempt at creating a dictionary of the English language, but it was the first serious attempt by someone who was a skilled lexicographer.

It was first published in the year of 1755. This new, latest edition, is not the full version, it is a special edited version produced by Jack Lynch, with selected highlights from the original work.

The original publication was 2,300 pages of definitions of words published in two volumes. So useful was it that it remained the definitive dictionary of English for at last 150 to 200 years. The Jack Lynch version is considerably smaller, one volume with only 646 pages.

The book starts with an introduction from Steven Leveen, the president of the Levnger Press, which explains why they decided to publish a new edition of the dictionary. There is also a fulsome three quarter page of acknowledgements from Jack Lynch, followed by 22 pages of introduction from Jack Lynch, including some basic guidelines of how to actually read the dictionary.

There is then a re-print of the original preface by Samuel Johnson, which goes much of the way to describe how and why he decided to take upon himself this Honorius responsibility to create THE English dictionary.

However, people must not form the conclusion that the dictionary only contains English words. There are numerous cross-references to Greek, Latin, French, Welsh, etc, throughout the dictionary, to help explain the derivation of the word in question.

The dictionary also has many words that are long gone from most people's everyday English. In fact some were heading a gentle decline even in the time of Dr Johnson himself.

As well as giving the definition of a word, Johnson also gave examples of it in use in literature, poetry, etc. A method still employed to this day in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Also we can see that some words have changed their usage over the year. For example, cadger meant a huckster, a person who brings butter, eggs, and from the market. We now have a totally meaning for that word.

To Cabbage was a slang (cant) word amongst taylors (sic) which meant to steal in cutting clothes.
I was intrigued to note that go-cart was included, though the description was somewhat different from the modern go-cart: "A machine in which children are inclosed (sic) to teach them to walk, and which they push forward without danger of falling."

There are other words that are no longer common, more's the pity! Belly-timber for food, and buffleheaded a man with a large head or someone who is dull and stupid.

Jack Lynch includes a bibliography and index, suggested reading material, etc.

In the UK it is published in hardback by Atlantic Press and costs £19.99.

Totally Weird and Wonderful Words!

Totally Weird and Wonderful Words is a book compiled and edited by Erin McKean, with rather splendid illustrations by Roz Chast and Danny Shanahan.

The book is published in paperback by the OUP at $14.95. (That's about £8.00) Why the OUP chose to put only the Dollar price on the cover is anyone's guess. As is the decision by the OUP to employ American English spelling in their books, but please do not get me started on THAT one!

As you would expect, the book is a mixture of odd, bizarre and entertaining words.

Is it a draffsack of odd and old words?
Or a logomachy, perhaps?

Read this book and you will discover words that you probably never even had the vaguest idea even existed.

Learn that a loon-slatt was a Scottish coin, that a lolling-lobby was a derisive term for a monk, that a gallinipper is a large mosquito, that dromaeogathous means having the palate of an emu, that dretch means to trouble in sleep, or to be troubled in sleep.

If someone has a fear of the dark it could be said that they are suffering from nyctophobia.

The book is a lot of fun and should while away the time should you be feeling somewhat wabbit.

Draffsack = a bag of garbage
Logomachy = fighting about words
wabbit = A Scottish word meaning exhausted or slightly unwell

Wales... land of song, land of… drink?

In the mid 1980s I was a member of a Student Union railway society. The room we were using for a meeting was required by an other group and we wanted to continue the meeting in a neighbouring pub, but this suggestion was howled down by one of the more vociferous members of our railway society, a mature student and former bank worker from South Wales.

He would not, he shouted, enter ANY place that allowed the consumption of "the Demon Drink!" (Yes, he used that exact phrase!)

There was an awkward silence, when everyone stared at him, somewhat aghast. "You are serious, aren't you?" I asked him, eventually. "Never more so!" He retorted.

An older member of the railway society, a somewhat grizzled former railwayman (who had fired and driven steam trains for a living in the 1960s) who was another mature student, said: "Well, you don't have to join us in the pub, you know? Just go home, if you'd prefer."

He stormed off with a "harrumph" and never again attended a meeting of the railway society. No great loss, it has to be said, as he wanted everything to be run his way or not at all!

But this brings me to the dichotomy of thought in Wales with regards to drinking. There seems to be those who still to this day refer to beer or alcohol as "The Demon Drink" or who consider the consumption of alcohol as a part and parcel of everyday life in Wales.

The Thirsty Dragon is a book by Lyn Ebenezer which covers this dichotomous attitude to beer.

To the Bards of old, beer was the very lifeblood of their Bardic traditions, but to the chapel patriarchs, beer was the enemy of man, and the drinking of beer was to be rooted out and stopped.

The book details present and past breweries, and also distilleries, too, and includes a very useful map detailing the locations of past and present breweries.

The book covers the history of the consumption of alcohol, starting with Mead, which was almost certainly the first alcoholic drink brewed and consumed in Wales and in the rest of the British Isles. The author speculates on how the first batch of mead came to be. Perhaps it was an accident, with wild yeast somehow managing to get into a pot of honey, which was accidentally allowed to get rainwater in, too. The rest, as the author says, is history.

Mead was used as part of the feasting celebrations to mark a wedding. The author points to a link between the consumption of mead at such a festive celebration and the wedding honeymoon. In fact, in Welsh the honeymoon is called 'mis mel', the literal translation of which is 'honey month.'

The book then covers wedding and honeymoon traditions from all over Europe and beyond. The book deals with how very important mead was in commerce and in war.

The book also covers the efforts (sometimes seen as somewhat hysterical and, to be frank, rather silly) of the temperance movement which wanted nothing more nor less than the total eradication of the consumption of alcoholic drinks throughout the whole Principality of Wales.

The book points out that there as been, in recent years, an upswing in the brewing of mead and that it is making a good showing at the Royal Welsh Show and other agricultural shows throughout Wales.

It also covers the involvement of the church in brewing beer, and wine. It covers the later brewing traditions in Wales and raises some interesting facts. Apparently it was a Welshman who invented Guinness, and at one point Mr Arthur Guinness was giving serious consideration to moving his whole brewery, lock, stock and barrel, to Wales! Incidentally, as late as the 1950s, adverts for Guinness in Wales were written in Welsh. Which is as it should be. "Guinness yw Gwin y Gwan" or "Cato Pawb! Fy Nguinness i" where just two examples.

The book also touches on the Welsh tradition of cider making and on the new Welsh whisky distilleries that are springing up, including Penderyn, which rivals many a Scotch distillery for flavour, it has to be said.

It devotes the latter part of the book to the newer Welsh breweries that have come to the fore in recent years and mentions the fact that the Wetherspoon chain is selling locally brewed Welsh beer in its Welsh pubs.

The book is well illustrated with both archive and contemporary photographs. It also tells the story of the only union never to even contemplate strike action, the Welsh Union of Tipplers, founded in 1952 and still going strong.

This is an eclectic book which is not without humour, yet which contains several serious messages, too.

It is published in paperback by Carreg Gwalch at £5.50, and is 116 pages in length.

The Gardener's Pocket Bible

The Gardener's Pocket Bible, by Roni Jay, is an excellent book. It is a little bit bigger than 'average' pocket size, but would probably fit quite snugly inside the leg pocket of a pair of cargo trousers! Often beloved of gardeners.

The book is 178 pages in length and is described by Roni Jay as a collaborative effort between Roni Jay, her mum and dad, Jill and Tony, their friend Will, who is a professional gardener, Laurie Taylor (he was the proof-reader, I think) and James Belsey, to whom she also dedicated the book.

With six people involved, one might expect this book to be a sort of camel of a gardening book, you know, the elderly joke about a camel being a horse designed by a committee?

Not a bit of it! The book is eminently readable and highly useful. It is broken down into easy to use sections and there is much information not found in books many times the size and many times the paperback) price of £7.99 (Check out Amazon, it is £6.39, though do check for p&p there.)

For example, the book will tell you if you can or cannot compost couch grass, the correct way to propagate plants, how far apart you should plant your vegetables, whether or not some insects should be discouraged or actually encouraged to live in your garden.
I have often found gardening books to be irritatingly vague about some aspects of gardening. "Avoid planting before the spring frosts" they say. Well, that's all very well, but when is the last spring frost, usually?
Roni tells you! In fairness, she warns that you can' always be certain, bit she gives a table of relative dates for Spring frosts. In Plymouth it is mid April, whilst in Birmingham late May, and Liverpool early April. (She explains why and the explanation is fascinating.)

The book also covers Autumn frosts, what you can plant, how you can plant them and where you can plant them; how to propagate plants, when you should deadhead, how to prune and which plants need pruning and when; how to garden perfectly sensibly even if there is a hosepipe ban; how to feed, mulch, weed and stake; how to feed your plants, how to make and store your own compost, what fruit to grow, how to grow and keep hedges; how to take up wildlife gardening and how to keep the wildlife you don't want out of your garden, as much as possible! And much more, besides.

The book also contains inset pocket facts which are always interesting and very often exceedingly useful, too.