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MisterBus

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About MisterBus

  • Rank
    Settling In
  • Birthday 05/27/1959

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  • Reading now?
    Adam & Eve and Pinch Me by AE Coppard
  • Gender
    Not Telling
  • Location:
    Cumbria UK
  • Interests
    Folklore, photography, bookbinding

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  • Website URL
    http://www.strangebritain.co.uk
  1. How much should a book cost?

    In the end I suppose it comes down to the difference between what a book costs and what a book is worth.
  2. How much should a book cost? I ask because I'm currently reading a 36-page black and white book which cost £14.99. Yes, you read it right - 36 pages. Don't get me wrong. It's worth every penny. It's a beautifully illustrated book on Dorset footpaths. But I know I can buy Wolf Hall for under £4 and that runs to nearly 700 pages. That's a halfpenny a page instead of 41p a page. My footpath book - Holloway by Macfarlane, Donwood and Richards - was originally printed as a limited edition of 277 copies and one would clearly expect to pay a premium price for one of those. But my £14.99 edition is a reprint by Faber & Faber. The paper is lightweight rather than art-paper quality and - horror of horrors - it appears to be perfect-bound rather than stitched. It looks 'nice' but lacks the sort of quality that shouts "I'm worth £14.99". At the end of the day, I bought the book; it was a topic that interested me and I was happy with handing over the cover price. It did intrigue me, however, how Faber decided on the price. Do they reason that this is a niche market and those specialists like me will pay the price, or are there other market forces at work? And then there's the question of how much an ebook should cost. But that's probably a topic for a separate thread!
  3. When Woolwich suspect Michael Adebowale was seen on video saying: “We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" I have to confess my first thought was 'Why is a Muslim quoting the Bible'. He wasn't of course. The Bible says the exact opposite. Matthew 5:38-39 says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." The idea of an 'eye for an eye' can be traced back nearly 2,000 years before Christ to Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi was a Babylonian King. By chance I had recently downloaded Resist Not Evil published by Clarence Darrow in 1902. The American lawyer achieved fame (or infamy) for defending John T Scopes in the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, and the teenage killers-f0r-fun, Leopold and Loeb (the inspiration for Rope by Patrick Hamilton). He claims in the preface that he wished to "state the reasons which appeal to me in support of the doctrine of non-resistance" but he's perhaps foiled by living in a pre-internet age. He confesses a search of libraries and bookstores revealed next to nothing on the subject. Perhaps for this reason, this reads like an unfinished book. He demolishes the current systems of justice and the punishment of criminals but fails to make any convincing argument that non-resistance to evil would be a viable alternative. But it's a damn good read all the same. What comes across is his sharp mind which would successfully be used to write a summing-up speech which would spare Leopold and Loeb's execution in 1924. His arguments are well made, they are succinct and in a crystal-clear English no doubt designed to sway a jury (or reader). How much they would stand up to more sustained criticism I'm not sure. Take for example his view on guns - a topical theme in America now and always. The gun lobby continually trots out "It is not guns that kill people, it is people" but he turns this on his head: "It is the bayonet that is evil and all of its fruits are bad" and argues that a bayonet in the hand of one man is no better than in the hand of another. Darrow points out that all forms of 'punishment' (prisons, execution, fining etc) are merely revenge by another name since they have never been shown - he says - to reduce crime. "There is but one cure for malice and that is malice" he writes. He points out the impossibility of judging someone for one act without balancing it against the many good acts they have done - or will do in the future ("No life is wholly good, and no life is wholly bad"). Nor does he have any faith in the infallibility of the men chosen to judge others. But while he's good at pointing out what's wrong with society and its treatment of criminals, he's far too light on any answers. We can certainly all agree that the money spent currently on prisons could be better spent on prevention but is he really suggesting we ignore crime and criminals on every occasion? Crime and punishment is always a timely debate and one that impinges on all our lives. I'll conclude with just one example which illustrates its rich complexity. I volunteer at my local arts centre and have spent many hours cleaning, painting and generally tidying up the building and its surroundings. Working alongside me have been a "community payback" team - men and women ordered to spend their weekends cleaning and painting the arts centre as punishment for some misdemeanour. It's baffled them that I choose to be there voluntarily!
  4. Gosh, interesting question! I'll give it some thought but I wonder about George Orwell's 1984 - specifically the appendix on 'Newspeak'
  5. Towards the end of the 19th century, book lover and former British prime minister W.E. Gladstone was worried: Britain could one day be drowning in books. He predicted there could soon be 60,000 books a year being published. How would libraries store so many books? And how would they be organised? In 2012 The British Library received 3 million new books a year. Somehow we are coping. But such was Gladstone’s concern in 1890 that he published a pamphlet: On Books And The Housing Of Them. In it he gives detailed advice on how to build your private library, what size shelves should be and how your books should be organised. And he had a radical solution to the problem of having too many books: A book cemetery. But there’s more than the humour of hindsight evoked by this short pamphlet. At a time society is looking once more at the future of books, the future of libraries, and the birth of the Google Library (an attempt to digitise every book ever published), this proves to be a surprisingly timely publication by a 19th century bibliophile. Take this quote for example: “Noble works ought not to be printed in mean and worthless forms, and cheapness ought to be limited by an instinctive sense and law of fitness. The binding of a book is the dress with which it walks out into the world. The paper, type and ink are the body, in which its soul is domiciled. And these three, soul, body, and habilament, are a triad which ought to be adjusted to one another by the laws of harmony and good sense.” An explanatory preface in front of Gladstone’s booklet for today’s reader would be useful (it’s a free download from Gutenberg books or the Kindle library) but it seems that he was writing at a time when copyright laws between American and the USA were being ironed out and cheap printing was heralding a greater democracy in book publishing and book ownership. Gladstone warned: “When artificial fetters are relaxed, and printers, publishers, and authors obtain the reward which well-regulated commerce would afford them, then let floors beware lest they crack, and walls lest they bulge and burst, from the weight of books they will have to carry and to confine.” He has no doubts over the importance of the book: “Books are the voices of the dead. They are a main instrument of communion with the vast human procession of the other world. They are the allies of the thought of man… In a room well filled with them, no one has felt or can feel solitary.” But he was having serious concerns about how libraries in the future would cope with so many books. How could you afford to have them all bound? (it seems Victorians paid to have books and periodicals bound anew when they bought one). How would you build rooms big enough and shelving long enough to store them all? And how would you organise the millions of books so you could quickly find the one you wanted? Gladstone spends much time on the physical dimensions for shelving (could he have ever dreamed of millions of books stored on a hard disc measuring just a few inches across, or stored on a ‘cloud’?!). He writes: “First, the shelves must, as a rule, be fixed; secondly, the cases, or a large part of them, should have their side against the wall, and thus, projecting into the room for a convenient distance, they should be of twice the depth needed for a single line of books, and should hold two lines, one facing each way. Twelve inches is a fair and liberal depth for two rows of octavos.” That a leading politician should bother to take time out to advise others how how wide to make their library shelves is a wonderful example of how much importance he placed on books. There is also much discussion on how books are categorised – A to Z or by subject? And he asks “whether the arrangement of a library ought not in some degree to correspond with and represent the mind of the man who forms it?” Surely still a question relevant to how people store books on their Google cloud or Kindle library? Finally he discusses – and he acknowledges how sensitive this subject will be – what to do with all those books and periodicals that you hardly ever read and you don’t want clogging up your bookshelves. His solution is a book cemetery – an underground storage facility but likened more to storing vintage wine in vats than disposing of bodies in a graveyard. “Undoubtedly the idea of book-cemeteries such as I have supposed is very formidable” he writes. “It should be kept within the limits of the dire necessity which has evoked it from the underworld into the haunts of living men. But it will have to be faced, and faced perhaps oftener than might be supposed.” So that will be the ‘archive’ button on my Kindle then. Since this booklet is free to Kindle users, I’d urge everyone to download it and read it. Gladstone's hope was that his measurement for private libraries would “prevent the population of Great Britain from being extruded some centuries hence into the surrounding waters by the exorbitant dimensions of their own libraries.” He probably failed to save me from the impending collapse of my house from the hundreds of books on my shelves but perhaps those architects of the virtual library at Google might find his advice helpful. * I should add that Gladstone had an impressive library of his own – it is in north Wales and you can visit and even sleep in it. (They offer accommodation). See www.gladstoneslibrary.org. I’ve also been reminded that Gladstone had a Scouse accent so please read his pamphlet accordingly!
  6. Proof of Heaven - A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife. By Dr Eben Alexander Piatkus 2012 The Near Death Experience (NDE): a person clinically dies but is revived minutes or hours later by doctors and tells how they journeyed to an afterlife during their 'death'. Normally a journey through a tunnel towards a bright light, a Christ-like figure reviews their life, they meet 'dead' friends and family in what can only be described as a heavenly place before they return to earth. To those who have experienced them they are usually utterly convincing proof of life after death. Many scientists have lazily explained such experiences away as a natural result of the brain dying - a dream, incredibly life-like and pleasant, but a dream nonetheless. Such NDEs have been recorded by all cultures over hundreds of years but this dichotomy between vague explanation versus utter personal conviction seemed to be an investigative dead end. Unless, perhaps, a neurosurgeon himself experienced such an event while wired up to brain monitors in a hospital. Enter stage left, Dr Alexander, an American neuroscientist (incidentally, he trained for a while in Newcastle, England) who - and it's hard to escape this conclusion - God picked on to provide a message to any doubting Thomases. In November 2008 he collapsed and died. Not just any death - a complete, final, clincially measured and recorded death. He contracted a rare form of bacterial meningitis (fewer than one in 10 million in adults in one year in the USA contract it) and entered a coma. The mortality rate is 40 to 80 per cent. His neocortex shut down. As he explains it: "When your brain is absent, you are absent too... If you don't have a working brain, you can't be conscious.. During my coma my brain wasn't working improperly - it wasn't working at all." After seven days the doctors were preparing to turn off life-support. The mortality rate for patients with this condition after seven days in a coma is over 97 per cent. But Dr Alexander did wake up and made a complete recovery - in a month. He says he journeyed to an after-life where he was more alive than he has ever been on earth. "The place I went was real" he writes. "Real in a way that makes the life we're living here and now completely dreamlike by comparison." And, perhaps surprisingly, he felt compelled to brave the storm of ridicule from his fellow neurosurgeons and talk publicly about his experience. He could also argue well against the previous explanations of a drug-induced or brain-death hallucination. As he points out, there was nothing operating in his brain to provide hallucinations. It was dead. He tells his story in Proof of Heaven. No two NDEs are identical but his contain many of the common themes - plus some more unusual experiences. He cleverly interweaves his experience alongside chapters describing how his doctors and family tried to find out what was wrong with him and tried to fight the e. coli infection. To be honest I found his relaying of life after death as disappointing. On the one hand, it's good a scientist experienced such an event - but on the other hand, he struggles to find the right words to describe what is literally an indescribable event. Perhaps we next need a writer or artist to have an NDE of this magnitude (if you're reading this God, count me in). I've been fortunate as a journalist to meet several people who have had NDEs. They've all had a life-changing experience and they all seemed to exude an incredible aura, a zest for life that lit up a room the moment they walked in. They're very good people to spend time with. While their experience has been fascinating and compelling it's the message on the meaning of life that has always interested me. Indeed, many have dramatically changed their lifestyle upon their return. For instance, most of them have said that in death they suddenly realised what talents they had as a human being (anything from artistic talents to an opportunity to help other people) but realised after death that they had never used these to the full. On being given a second chance they just 'went for it', full of confidence and realising they only had one chance on earth. Dr Alexander's message - and since he believes he spoke directly to God it's an important one - can be summed up in a nutshell as 'Love'. Which is of very little help to me and I suspect most other mortals. Out of a nutshell his message from God was: You are loved and cherished, dearly forever You have nothing to fear There is nothing you can do wrong Which, I'm sorry, is still not much practical help to me. I pass it on in case it helps others. Dr Alexander's experience may not be relayed particularly well in this book but it's undoubtedly an important event and is making him and other scientists to revisit previously dismissed NDEs and ask questions. Above all, I salute his courage in speaking out. I do suspect, however, that he has not yet told the full story. Early in his experience he found himself in an 'underworld' where "grotesque animal faces bubble out of the muck, groaned or screeched, and then were gone again". Is he saying there's proof of hell as well as of heaven? I look forward to Volume 2 of Proof of Heaven.
  7. Dear John, It’s not you, it’s me. I just need some time apart. There’s no one else. Yes, you came home unexpectedly one afternoon and caught me with Patrick Hamilton but it honestly meant nothing. It was just a fling. After so many wonderful times there was bound to be the average, the everyday – the humdrum. And that was The Chrysalids (1955). Let’s not ruin everything by arguing. After a while we can meet again and discuss the future of our relationship. We met when I was a teenager and it was love at first sight. The Day of the Triffids will always have a special place in my heart. And then the passionate time we had with The Kraken Wakes, The Midwich Cuckoos and – perhaps the best of them all – Trouble with Lichen. Oh, how we laughed at how you should pronounce ‘lichen’! It couldn’t last of course. I think we both knew there would come a time of – how best to put it – ‘disappointment’. I did try to like The Chrysalids. Perhaps I tried too hard. Or perhaps I’d built up such high expectations that disappointment was sure to follow. The characters were insipid, the plot was almost non-existant – and then drawn out within an inch of its life – and the attempts at emotion were almost childish. The post-apocalyptic landscape was badly painted and too often an easy way to prop up the stumbling plot. But let’s not finish on harsh words. You’ve written so many outstanding books that you’ll be remembered long after The Chrysalids has been pushed to the back of the bookshelf. Keep in touch. Love, Alan x.
  8. Before The Dawn - An Autobiography. By Gerry Adams

    Thanks wordsgood for the encouragement
  9. The Library Book - Various

    The Library Book - Various. Profile Books 2012. Published in support of The Reading Agency. What's the point of libraries? When we hear of libraries closing there's an instinctive urge to protest but, honestly, should we be bothered? I've not visited a library for two years and a straw poll among my friends reveals none have visited one in living memory. When did you last visit a library?. But deep down I feel libraries should be part of our society so I was hoping The Library Book would help me understand why. The Library Book includes contributions from Julian Barnes, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Lucy Mangan, Alan Bennett, Stephen Fry, Susan Hill and a host of other worthies who one would hope could help in this debate. Unfortunately, most of them have tackled the subject of libraries in the same way: a wander down Nostalgia Avenue wearing rose-tinted glasses and reminiscing about visits to a library when they were a child (None of them are brave enough to admit that they haven't visited a library in months or years). It makes for a nice read but it's not very helpful. There are some notable exceptions. Seth Godin, Karin Slaughter and Bella Bathurst start to ask pertinent questions about library usage and their value in the future. Seth Godin interestingly suggests that we may need librarians in the future but we may not need libraries. Tom Holland is the one essay I found particularly insightful. His discussion on the history of libraries and their role in society puts the current debate about them into perspective and starts to help you understand better whether libraries should be storing books, ebooks, DVDs or computer games (and which ones). And his tale of Seleucus, a megalomaniac general who sat for a time on the throne of Babylon, serves as warning to all: "A century or so after his death, he was remembered with mingled horror and admiration as a man who had sought 'to burn all the books in the world, because he wanted the calculation of time to begin with himself'." You'll find something enjoyable to read in The Library Book (and its profits go The Reading Agency which encourages reading among people of all ages so that's a good enough reason on its own to buy the book). But what you won't find in the pages is a reason why we need libraries in 2012 or precisely what their purpose should be. Can someone write such a book please. Alan Cleaver
  10. The English Village by Martin Wainwright Michael O'Mara Books 2011 Warm, charming, quintessentially English, rambling, full of colour - Martin Wainwright is all these and more which is why The English Village is such a delightful book to read. This is not a historical reference book - how could it be at just 192 pages - and makes only a vague attempt to mention all aspects of villages and village life from their origins to the present day. Rather Mr Wainwright - Northern Editor of The Guardian - dips into the subject like a kid in Mrs Miggin's sweet shop and picks out some of the brighter and tastier bits of trivia. If anything, an attempt to impose a structure on this book forces Mr Wainwright to talk at too much length about some of the duller aspects of village life and the reader welcomes his return to the fireside-chat style at which the author excels. There are also some laugh out loud moments: "...or at Mavis Enderby in Lincolnshire, whose shared sign with a neighbouring village is often converted by wags to read: 'To Old Bolingbroke and Mavis Enderby - the gift of a son'." But for the most part this is a book which will just keep you smiling. He takes a look at the role of the church, of festivals, of horticulture, of architecture and of the pub - but can't resist wandering off down Trivia Lane when the fancy takes him. And these meanderings down't lonnin are the best parts of the book. Here he muses on the truth behind the romantic image of the village and its possible soundtrack: "Sentimental paintings of rosy-cheeked maidens at the gates of their cottages, which do indeed tend to have Jane Austen's green-painted shutters and hollyhocks abounding in their gardens, should really be studied with a soundtrack of terminal coughing from a tuberculosis victim indoors, and a scratch-and-sniff facility to release the stink of ordure, rotting food and drains." Passing references to hollyhocks, community-run pubs and English 'model villages' abroad only whet the reader's appetite to explore further the many aspects of the English village. The brevity of the book reflects the wide-angle lens approach to the subject with the occasional zooming in on the strange or charming side of English village life an echo of Mr Wainwright's Guardian-sized features on said topics. The only frustration is a feeling at the end of the book that we haven't really stayed long enough in one place to fully get to know the nooks, crannies and characters which really go to make up the English village. I can't help thinking back to my home village: Old Bilton, near Rugby in Warwickshire. I can instantly recall so many aspects of the village life that Mr Wainwright barely touches on (if at all): The sweet shop, the village green, the post office, the shops and shopkeepers, the ghosts, the tragedies, the legends of hidden treasure, the pranks, the buttercross, the village characters, the Derby and Joan club, the schools, Magnet Lane, Old Tom, bonfire night, New Year's Eve - and so it goes on. It's of no matter. It's the title of the book that's not quite right rather than the content or the way it's written ('Aspects of an English Village' might have been better). I just hope it's not too long before Mr Wainwright publishes a sequel: Old Bilton - An English Village might be a good one.
  11. Steps for writing a good book review

    I was going to vote a resounding 'no' to this advice but, thinking about it some more, I can see some value to having advice about structure when you first start to write a review. But the idea that reviews should be so regimented appals me. I was reminded of the scene in Dead Poets Society where pupils read in a text book how to evaluate mathematically whether poetry is good or bad. The advice suggested is all mechanical but with no emotion. When I read a review I want to learn as much about the reviewer and his or her views on life, as I do about the book itself. A review strikes me as a good excuse to initiate a discussion - not a way of coldly and clinically dissecting a book. I only narrowly concede that this advice - like the pages of the text book in Dead Poets Society - shouldn't be torn up into shreds and burnt! Read it once as a crutch with which to write your first review - then throw it away and write from the heart.
  12. The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

    The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. Faber and Faber (2007) Mr Bennett wrote this in 2007 but it remains as apposite, if not more so, in 2012. It is invariably described as 'charming' or 'delightful' and won't fail to disappoint on that level. It tells of the Queen stumbling across a mobile library which visits the courtyards of Buckingham Palace - and how she then rediscovers the joy of reading. Her joy of reading, however, slowly takes over from her joy of performing royal duties. It's written in Mr Bennett's own delightful way with some delicious 'observations' on the private life of the most private person in Britain (it's hard to forget in these celebrity times that she's one celebrity who has never given an interview). But you are left thinking (I was going to say 'one is left thinking' but that would be awful!) 'Why have I never seen the Queen reading a book?' Perhaps she is an avid reader in private. Or as Mr Bennett suggests, she might do it surreptitiously in her carriage while waving to the crowds. Or she might be as disinterested in reading as many folk are in this technological age. But if she does read books, what genre does she read? Barbara Cartland? Modern gothic? Poetry? Celebrity biographies? Or perhaps Fifty Shades of Gray on a Kindle she keeps in her handbag? And wouldn't it be a boost to reading if she was photographed reading a book. (It would be even more cool though if Prince Harry was snapped reading a book by Alan Bennett!). So c'mon ma'am: The next time you're in your carriage, just lift the book off your lap so we can all be delighted, saddened, shocked - or amused!
  13. How Not To Be A Professional Footballer by Paul Merson Published by HarperSport (2011) IT'S hard to know how to react to this book. Paul Merson comes across as such a 'cheeky chappie', a 'loveable rogue' that you can't help but pick up his biography and start reading it with a huge smile across your face. But then you start to read about the drink, drugs and gambling. It's like watching a road crash in slow motion and being unable to do anything but watch it unfold in front of your eyes. This is an autobiography in the true state of the word: it's me, me, me all the way through. His family - who must have suffered terribly during his addictive and compulsive behaviour - barely get a mention. Paul appears too wrapped up in his own life to write about anyone else. It would, however, be fascinating to read his first wife's biography. He tells how he had it all as a professional footballer but squandered it all. His demise began on receiving his first pay packet at Arsenal - a fellow player took him to the Bookies and he blew the lot. Paul was so ashamed he told his parents that he had been mugged on the way home. And so began a life of gambling and lying. And drinking. Having decided that Paul is the most despicable person on the planet, I then found that I was starting to feel sympathy for him. After all, here was a man who obviously had a serious problem. It's clear this is not just a case of someone determined to enjoy life irrespective of who he hurts on the way. This is someone who has a mental problem - an addictive personality, that needs to keep getting a quick-fix buzz. Be that from scoring goals, gambling, drink, drugs or whatever. Trying to decipher the riddle wrapped in an enigma that is Paul Merson proves to be a pointless task. Paul pulls no punches but it's going to need a lot more than this book to understand what is really going on in this man's mind. This book is more banter than biography and there's no doubt more left out than included in. And the material included in the book is doubtless given plenty of entertaining spin. It is at once a brutally honest book and a very funny one. Probably just like the man himself.
  14. Sold For A Farthing - Clare Kipps Published 1953 by Frederick Muller Ltd MY top ten books of all time include the predictable mix of the worthy (Plato's The Last Days of Socrates), the classic (Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit) and the personal (The Green Stone by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman). But following a discovery a few days ago I can now include the unexpected: Sold For A Farthing by Clare Kipps. It is only 72 pages long. It was written by a non-professional writer. And it tells the story of a sparrow. Clare Kipps was an Air Raid Warden in London. In July 1940 she returned home to find on her doorstep a day-old sparrow which, miraculously, responded to her nursing. It had, however, a deformed wing which meant it stayed the rest of its life in Clare's home. The sparrow - Clarence - became tame. So tame, in fact, that Clare was able to take it on her rounds in London's East End. Children (and adults) sitting huddled together in fear of Hitler's bombing campaigns immediately burst into smiles when they realised their Air Raid Warden brought with her a pet sparrow - a sparrow happy to perform a programme of 'tricks'. It is this backdrop of World War II which makes this story so poignant. While men were slaughtering each other by the millions, Clare and her friends do all they can to save, and care for, one sparrow. The title - Sold For A Farthing - is a Biblical reference: that if God cares for a sparrow that you can buy for a farthing, then how much more must he care for you. The irony isn't lost on Clare. On its most basic level, this is a simple touching tale of a woman caring for a sick sparrow. And the book can be enjoyed if read only as that (there are even photos of Clarence performing some of his tricks). Just as you can enjoy Jonathan Livingstone Seagull as a story about a seagull. But there are deeper questions here for those who care to ask them. For example, there's a quote at the start from CS Lewis about whether it is man's duty to tame animals, rather than leave them in a 'wild' state. Clare (a widow) says Clarence was not a pet. Rather that they shared an intimate friendship (he often 'nested' in her bed with her). By the end of the book she is writing "This little person - for it becomes increasingly difficult to me to think of him as a mere bird...". But does the sparrow become more human, or does she become more 'mother hen'. What are we to make of this: "After breakfast (if the siren allowed) came the morning scrap. The bed would be cleared for action and I would sit at one end and the sparrow, looking like a miniature eagle, at the other. Then he would rush at me, tail spread and wings outstretched, and hold down my hand with one tiny claw while he hammered it with his beak like a miner with a pickaxe. He would then retreat only to return in fury to the attack - pecking, pinching, tumbling and scolding as the wild sparrows do in the hedgerows. But when I said sternly 'Now, now! That's enough!" he would simmer down and flutter his fan until his fed." To protect her eyes during these mock fights she took to wearing goggles. Clarence and Clare have their share of adventures on the way. The house is bombed (he survives), they are caught in a bomb raid while out at night and on one occasion a cat gets into Clarence's room. Clare's inexperience as a writer does mean she glosses over these. So, infuriatingly she says at the start of Chapter Five: "There is little of interest to record in the life of my sparrow from the end of his sixth year until his serious illness and partial recovery in his twelfth."! But it is perhaps for the best that the publisher didn't rush round a ghost-writer and Clare's matter-of-fact style allows this story to be told simply and starkly. That said, you'll no doubt be shedding a tear or two at Clarence's death. He lived 12 years (most text books will tell you the life expectancy of a sparrow is three years) and the bird-lover/scientist will no doubt find much of interest in this diary. The lover of mysticism or the supernatural may also find something in this book. Such as this throwaway line in the Prologue: "When I was born, a magpie pecked three times on the window as the nurse announced that a puny and significant infant was a girl. My mother took it as an ill omen - for she had a strange horror of magpies - and she died within three days. But neither magpie nor raven has ever been to me a harbinger of sorrow. I have had friends among the wild songsters and have been on nodding terms with a nightingale, but no bird has ever been so constant and beloved a companion as my little house sparrow." And there's a spine-chilling coincidence towards the end of the sparrow's life when Clare asks a photographer to take some pictures of her feathered friend. She randomly pulls a book off the shelf and opens it for the sparrow to be pictured 'reading'. Only when the photo is developed and printed does she realise that the book (of religious scripture) is open at a page that says: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing, yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father knowing?" Make of that what you will. Clare was a friend of the poet and author Walter de la Mare and he encouraged her to write an account of Clarence. It was published in 1953 and became a minor sensation. The book appears to have been rarely out of print until the Seventies. And while it may be out of print now, second-hand copies are easily obtained. I urge you to get hold of one. Dickens it ain't. But it is without doubt a most remarkable book. P.S. It would be nice to know more about the author, Clare Kipps, if anyone knows any biographical details.
  15. Before The Dawn - An Autobiography. By Gerry Adams Published by Mandarin, 1996. How does one review a book like this? I grew up in the cosy English Midlands in the 1960s and 70s when The Troubles began once more. It was oh-so-simple in my youth. Gerry Adams and his cronies were the baddies; the British government were the goodies - and the IRA were committing atrocities on an almost daily basis that seemed to have no motivation other than pure evil. Gerry Adams still provokes strong reactions. Even as I read this book in England in 2012, my partner and others reacted with apoplectic fury that I should read it yet alone believe any of it. But even in my childhood I always suspected that the black and white simplistic version of events as described by the British press were "a bit more complicated than that". And when Mrs Thatcher outlawed Mr Adams and others from talking on TV (depriving him of "the oxygen of publicity") I suspected this was the last gasp effort of a bullying government which had long since lost the argument. I also realised that the politics of Northern Ireland would be something I'd have to read more about one day. But where to start? I picked up the Gerry Adams autobiography because of the censorship. What did he have to say that was so terrible we shouldn't be allowed to hear it? And if he was in any way responsible for the atrocities how could he even start to justify them? My real fear, however, was getting my head round the tangled web of Northern Irish politics. Fortunately, whatever his faults, Mr Adams can at least write. And with Google sat beside me, the book was reasonably easy to read. For most part he writes well. On occasion his writing is terrifyingly powerful - but that may be because the events he's writing about are so devastating. And, it has to be said, at times his writing is superficial. Since we start with his childhood and work through to 1996, this autobiography does at least give one person's chronological view of the events in Northern Ireland and the reasons for them. "Oh so you do believe him" my partner would be saying at this point . No, I don't 'believe' every word he says but I'm interested in what he has to say about Bloody Sunday, Bloody Friday (it only gets two paragraphs - did I mention his writing was sometimes superficial?), the hunger strikes and so forth. This is a book that makes you ask questions. Did we really think it was a good idea to do away with trial by jury? would be one of my first questions. It makes you think and makes you want to understand the conflict from all points of view. This is the start of a journey for me and establishing 'facts' is probably going to be a pointless task. Who do I turn to for solid facts about Northern Ireland? Wikipedia? The Daily Mail? Gerry Adams? But hopefully by asking questions and seeking answers I can at least start to understand what brought on this madness - and why it has hopefully come to an end. Mr Adams was born into a society of inequality, which boiled over into frustration and anger. And then very quickly developed into an armed struggle that resulted in 3,600 deaths. That's tragic enough but if it could have been avoided by people talking (and listening) to each other it would be even more desperate. And what's particularly chilling is that soldiers on the streets, bombs, schools turned into military outposts, people being snatched from their homes, internment and trials without juries all happened in a society which, just a few years earlier, had been just like ours. How quickly civilisation can fall apart - and how long it takes to put it back together. This book may not provide many answers but it certainly asks a lot of questions. And that's no bad thing. - Alan Cleaver
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