Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Warm hearts

A year ago we were covered with snow and shivering through the coldest winter in ages but our hearts were being warmed by our cricket team. Here are a few pages from last years diary...

Xmas Ashes.


Christmas day was just too busy for even thinking about Cricket, at least it should be....but this is the Ashes. Nine round the table for dinner and six more joining us for the evening, three generations of my family, all of us are cricket fans, my Dad, myself and my nephew have all played weekend cricket.. We all ate too much, drank too much and a good day was had by all. Suddenly people were leaving it was 11.20 and the fourth test was about to start. I settled into a comfortable chair in front of the tele to find that England had won the toss and elected to field, which surprised me. Anderson & Tremlett opened well and the chances came but weren't taken!!!! Hughes hit the boundary and I'm thinking why didn't we bat? Then there were the wasted reviews!!!

The tide turned. Tremlett gets Watson, Hughes slashes at Bresnan and they're two down!!! Ponting gets out in the same way as normal and it's 37-3!!!! Alcohol is seducing me. I depart to bed and switch the radio on and just before I drift off to sleep Hussey is gone and Jimmy has a wicket! I wake up in the night, roll over and tune my ears into the radio, Australia are 98 all out!! Anderson & Tremlett have four apiece Happy fucking Xmas!!!

Breakfast is a very happy place this morning. I've watched the highlights and enjoyed every second! England already have a 59 run lead with all ten wickets in hand Strauss & Cook both past fifty, would love to see a ton for the captain. We can say it out loud now, the Ashes are staying home!!!!!!!


11.20pm on boxing day, a few minutes until the second day starts, hoping England will bat all day and I think they will. Australia is quiet, can anyone remember a more one sided day of Ashes cricket?

The women of the house have taken over the TV so I lay on my bed slightly worse for wear and listen to TMS on the radio. A slow start with Australia are bowling well, particularly Siddle who picks up both openers. As I start to drift off to sleep, Trott and Pietersen are beginning to get the scoreboard ticking over. We're going to be all right!

I awake sometime after day break and catch up with the close of play news and its another happy breakfast time. 444-5 with Trott on 141* and Prior 75*. KP chipped in with a fifty too. Colly failed again and Bell also got out to a daft shot. The lead is nearly 350 with 5 wickets left, couldn't have hoped for much more .

Then there's the sub plot, things don't go Ponting's way and little Ricky blows a gasket at the umpires. Not an uncommon sight on the field of play these days but this is bad even by Ponting's low standards. But perversely it's also highly amusing from an English point of view!

Now it's the early evening and I'm looking forward to play beginning again tonight, why wouldn't I? England should bat on and grind out the runs, there's still loads of time in the match. If the two not out bats play themselves in they could look to force it. Could see Prior and the tail playing some big shots.

I'm wide awake at 11.30 but things don't go exactly to plan. Siddle bowls really well for six wickets, Hilfenhaus picks up a couple he deserved. But unfortunately for Australia Johnson is complete cack and Harris goes off the field with an injury. For England Prior added 10 to his overnight score but of the tail, only Swann wags with 20 odd. Trott finished unbeaten on 168 giving only one chance towards the end. England all out for 513 a lead of 415. Now as I head to bed at the lunch break, it'll be time for the bowlers to come out and do their thing.


Fantastic news at breakfast time! England's bowlers did come out and do their thing but not before the Aussies had put together a couple of decent partnerships. The hapless Hughes was run out then Bresnan of all people ripped through the top order. At the other end Swann bowled brilliantly to dry up the scoring and picked up a wicket as did Anderson. All the Aussie batsmen bat exactly how we've come to expect, except Hussey, who failed. At close of play Australia are 160-6 with the injured Harris highly unlikely to bat. England need three wickets to retain the Ashes and nothing will stop them.

The day passes slowly until a nice evening at my mum's house. Can't wait for the start of play though, I'm confident it'll be all over before lunch and I'm going to watch it all.


With a massively full belly I finally settled in front of the TV just too late to see Johnson bowled by Tremlett. The room is full of noisy teenage girls (long story...) but they don't get in the way of the cricket. The likeable and talented duo of Haddin & Siddle swing the bat with some success to ruin Swann's figures. It's getting frustrating, why not take the new ball? For the first time this winter the fielding standards have dropped too. Eventually Siddle slogs one too many and is caught on the boundary. Hilfenhaus falls to Bresnan who has produced a career best 4-50 and it's game over. Australia are thrashed in just over 3 days and the Ashes retained. I head off to bed and listen to some of the celebrations on the radio before drifting off to sleep. The Christmas present we wanted has been delivered.

The evening TV highlights are joyous, the team celebrating with the best travelling sports fans in the world, the Barmy Army!! It's wonderful to watch but nice to note in the interviews that the players know the job isn't done yet. To be fair, Ponting was gracious in defeat, as he was in his two previous tastes of Ashes defeat.

Next stop Sydney for another must win match. England's selectors have the happy task of deciding which bowling line up to use. All those who have played so far have performed superbly so it will have to be horses for courses. I can't see anyone being rested, England will want to win. Likewise Collingwood will keep his place, maybe he deserves one last chance?

Australia's selection problems are much greater. They'll hope Katich is fit to replace Hughes. But what about Ponting and Clarke? Are either worth their place in the team for batting or captaincy?Who is there to replace them? Haddin should bat at six and Smith should go back to school. Johnson was Johnson. Siddle was superb, Hif was unlucky and Harris is crocked. Are they duty bound to play Michael Beer in Sydney?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


I got bored of the whole book thing. I still have a book on the go at all times, I'll never stop reading but writing about books is a struggle for me. By the time I sit down with time on my hands I've read a couple more books and the details of the one I want to write about are hazy at best. I thought about deleting this blog but on reflection decided to use it for what ever I feel like writing about (which may well include books at some point). I expect a lot of it will feature my addiction to following the England test cricket team, hence the title.

It's a shame I didn't start this a couple of years ago as since losing away in the West Indies our test team has remained undefeated in a series and are now rightly acclaimed the No.1 Test team in the world! Not only that, we didn't lose one single test match during 2011. This, after decades of, at best, inconsistency and utter crap at worst. We are also the world champions at T20 however our current ODI performances are best described by the previous sentence. It's a great time to be an English cricket fan! However, the winter tours in the new year will not be easy and I'm looking forward to them already. Following that I have tickets to watch England vs West Indies at Trent Bridge in May and I'm at the Oval in July to watch England play South Africa.

What else am I interested in? Beer, wine & food are the first three things to enter my head. My favourite Suffolk brewery and their bitter certainly hits the spot as does the 'Light house' beer from a bottle. I'm no expert on this stuff but I do know a good pint when I drink one. Likewise with Wine. I haven't a clue what makes an expert purr but I am partial to a drop of Red and I know what I like. The Blossom Hill signature Italian for example, three bottles for a tenner in Asda at the moment. Co-op always do good wine and I try not to spend much more than a fiver on a bottle, Lime Tree Cab Sav is a good one. With beer I usually get too bloated to get drunk but with wine I occasionally manage to get myself slaughtered without realising I'm doing it. Often with calamitous results. I pretty much like all food and luckily there's a great Pub/restaurant just five minutes walk away. My favourite is seafood an the 'Captains catch' at the Needham Lion is delicious. This is a much more economical option that flying to Spain for the Tapas but I love that too.

Another thing is music and Friday night saw me and a group of nearest and dearest descend on Saffend to see “Fat boy Slim” play. I think this is the first show I've been to where the headliner has been a DJ and a bloody good experience it was too. Cracking trippy light show and effects with a big banging sound. I danced till my feet ached then went to bed at 0415. At 0645 I got up for work.... Best gig of the year was “The Eels” at the Latitude festival, which incidently is a brilliant chilled out, laid back festival and I have my tickets booked for next year already.

Following on the musical theme, we are no longer allowed to have a radio at work. This isn't down to over zealous bosses but in fact down to some royalties group/musical union or something like that. Apparently we need to pay several hundred pounds for a broadcasting license. What a load of complete bollocks! As we are no longer listening to music all day we will find it much harder to hear 'new' music so are therefore less likely to buy any CDs and the musicians will make less money out of royalties!!! However, on the plus side I'm not being driven insane by those hideous, cheesy, crappy Christmas songs that blight the airwaves at this time of year. I like Noddy Holder but I bloody know it's Christmas, and Roy fucking Wood I'm glad it's not Xmas every day other wise I'd have to listen to your crap all the time.

Finally books. The last really good book I read was a Colin Dexter 'Morse' detective thingy. It was pretty good but I can't remember the title, something to do with a Jewel. I also like the Rebus books by Ian Rankin and have read a few of those recently. Nearly forgot...”On Chesil Beach” by Ian McEwan. Really interesting read, completely different to the other books I've read by the same author and gripping till the end. Really liked that one.

Here are the last two reviews I wrote before I forgot about this blog.

The Museum's Secret by Henry Chancellor

The museums secret is strictly speaking, a children's book but it came recommended and for personal reasons I decided to do just that. It began in intriguing fashion with the prologue but when the story began in earnest I found it a bit laboured.

Through the beginning of the book I was struggling. I didn't find the characters at all convincing and the plot did not suspend my disbelief. However the longer the book went on the better it got and the more I enjoyed it.

As I read further the pieces of the literary jigsaw began to fall into place, not entirely to my satisfaction but enough to hold my attention. It would be possible to pick certain parts of it to pieces but what the hell? I was enjoying it! For me the ending was a bit of a rush but all the loose ends were tied up.

It's inevitable that all books of this type will be compared to the Harry Potter series and this one is not in that league. However all in all it's a good read kids and younger teenagers.

Worth reading

The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell

This came recommended just when I'd run out of reading and came at a good time as it's quite a while since I've read a 'Crime Novel'. This one is a little different as the real star of the show is Nigel Barnes, not a detective of crime but one who researches and finds peoples ancestry. When a series of murders are linked to history, Nigel is called in to trace the past.

A nice book, well written and easy to read. Not a 'who dunnit?' more a 'who is he?'. I flew through the pages during breaks at work but it wasn't a book that had me searching for it in the evening. It's highly entertaining but not riveting.

Enjoyed but give me a P.D. James

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Two picked out of a bookshop at random...

The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga

Set in India, this is the story of the 'rags to riches' journey of Balram, AKA 'The White Tiger'. A poor, low caste Indian born into poverty in rural India's “darkness”. This is a first person narrative as Balram is telling his life story by email to the Chinese president who is due to visit India. A strange concept but it works.

This novel is about the two different sides of India, the one where the rich dwell and that where the poor try to eke out an existence. The author highlights the stark contrasts of these two worlds, a tiny percentage enjoy fabulous wealth while a massive majority struggle to survive. Arvind Adiga educates the western reader about the real India that the tourist doesn't see and he does so with a smile on his face and a laugh on his tongue. A place where the dice is stacked against the poor man and the wealthy maintain this status quo through corruption. For this reason some have compared White Tiger to 'Bonfire of the Vanities' by Tom Wolfe but I found Adia's novel much more entertaining, in short it's much funnier.

Against this backdrop flows an intriguing story. We learn very early what type of character Balram is but unlike Wolfe's protagonists we can't help liking our scheming servant hero. 'White Tiger' is very easy to read and an enjoyable tale but it has few real surprises and flags a little towards the end.

This book educates and entertains and gets a thumbs up from me.

I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

I don't read much science fiction and to be absolutely honest I didn't realise what I was buying when I picked this book up. “John Smith” is the latest pseudonym of a teenage alien living on earth. “John” is being hunted by aliens from yet another planet who are determined to kill him, sounds a bit like the “Terminator” films.

The author “Pittacus Lore”, we are pretentiously told “Is a Lorien elder entrusted with the story of the Lorien nine...”. Of course he is....The book is told in the first person and annoyingly it's constantly in the present tense. I'm guessing the usual audience for this type of book would not find this as annoying as I did.

Reading the above back it sounds a dreadful premise and something I would hate. So...is it? To be honest I got hooked up in the story pretty quickly. The teenage school yard stuff immediately intriguing and as the adventure hots up it really has you turning the pages quickly. The story is entertaining enough but predictable and I never really cared about any of the characters. Towards the end it became obvious that there would be a sequel or two, I think I've unwittingly stumbled into some kind of 'Twilight' style teenage franchise?? All in all it was entertaining but unfulfilling.

OK but I don't think I'll bother with the sequel(s)

Thursday, 30 June 2011


I realised I'd forgotten to blog the following two Potter books.....

Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter & the Half blood Prince by JK Rowling

Harry's battle against Voldemort continues throughout years five and six of his education at Hogwarts. Both books are full of familiar characters and themes but the stakes are getting higher and things are definitely getting deeper and darker. Harry and his friends are growing stronger and more confident but unfortunately so are their enemies.

Aside from the main plot the author subtly deals with many other themes such as; Government spin doctoring, lying newspapers, racism, young love and teenage angst. These are definitely not children's books! Events that occurred in previous books, that may have seemed insignificant at the time, are expanded upon. Whether JK Rowling planned all this from the start or cleverly picked themes to enlarge in retrospect, it doesn't matter. It all works brilliantly.

As the action hots up and the stories move on towards their climaxes it is difficult to put these books down. There are surprises and unexpected twists, Rowling really is a master story teller. It's now life or death for the protagonists and not even the best loved characters are safe. Now I understand the hype that used to surround a 'Potter' book launch! When one book finishes I could not wait to pick up the next, so I didn't. When I finished reading the “..Prince” I started another, totally different novel by another author. I found myself missing Hogwarts....

These books just keep getting better!!

Anything ever written by Ben Elton

Over the years I've read lots of books by Ben Elton, from memory; Stark, Gridlock, This Other Eden, Inconceivable, Dead Famous, High Society, Past Mortem, The First Casualty

It would probably be unfair to say that they are all the same but they definitely all have things in common. They are all very easy to read. They have a plot that makes some kind of grand statement about the world we live in. They all are cracking stories that keep the reader interested right till the end. They are forgotten almost instantly.

Ben Elton's 'motor mouth' public persona makes him a very difficult person to like. His books are enjoyable yet ultimately unsatisfying. Like fast food, you feel good for a bit but soon want something more substantial, they are however very moorish. There's always a moral to the stories but I'm not sure the reader can ever take it seriously, which is a bit of a shame.

Guilty pleasure? Don't like Elton, shouldn't like his books but honestly I do!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

All good things...

When God was a Rabbit by Susan Winman

I picked this book off the shelf simply because the title appealed to me. I read the blurb on the cover and thought 'why not?' I wasn't disappointed. I suppose if one has to categorise this novel then it has to be regarded as a comedy with moments of black humour but it could never be called a 'dark' book.

The book's narrator “Elly” was born in 1968, the same year as me. In part one, as she charts her childhood against the backdrop of events of the seventies I found memories stirring within myself. The book charts Elly's childhood, particularly focusing on her relationships with her older brother Joe and her best friend Jenny Penny. We also get to know her parents, wider family and neighbours in what is an authentic portrayal of how it was to grow up in that period. Elly's Childhood is described beautifully. The highs and lows; triumphs, dramas and disasters that seem huge from a child's viewpoint are put into perfect perspective. Winman's ability to write 'through the eyes of a child' reminded me of Maya Angelou, one of my favourite authors.

Part two takes up the story with the main characters in adulthood. All are scarred to some extent by events that occurred during their childhood. Much of part two deals with how Elly, Joe and others deal with their past. Just when you are wondering where the author is taking us the protagonists are ripped into the present by earth shattering events. Where will the characters end up? Will we have a happy ending?

'When God was a rabbit' is thought provoking, irreverent, heartbreaking and at times shocking. Most of all the book is beautifully written and very funny.

Big thumbs up!

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Two weeks without dipping into the world of Witches, Wizards, Hogwarts, Death eaters and Horcruxes. I was getting withdrawal symptoms, I couldn't resist any longer, I had to have another fix.

The final instalment of the Harry Potter saga leaves no stone unturned and ticks all the boxes. The Deathly Hallows begins exactly where the last book had left off and charts the trials of Harry and friends as they strive to fulfil the expectations of the late Professor Dumbledore. The grim task of these three seventeen year old apprentice sorcerers is to defeat Voldemort and win the war but all seems hopeless.

Like all of the Potter books it begins slowly then builds and builds until the reader is totally paralysed and unable to put the bloody book down. The success of the Potter series means Rowling really did have a mammoth task tying up the loose ends and ending the story in a way that will satisfy the reader. She seems to have achieved this effortlessly. The Deathly Hallows is brilliant, it does everything the reader would ask of it and still has room for shocks and surprises along the way.

To begin with Harry and friends are in hiding, looking for clues that will help them complete the mountainous task that faces them. The tension builds to take its toll on both the characters and the reader. Eventually the heroes are forced into the open and the second half of the book is all action open warfare.

All the adult themes that emerged in the later books continue in this one; racism, political spin, young love, friendship and loyalty. Anyone who cares to read between the lines a little can allow themselves to be educated along the way. There are surprises too with muddled allegiances and secret heroism. Now I have a touch of sadness as I've finished the series I have nothing more to look forward to. I'm going to miss Hogwarts. However there's always the option of re-reading, which I know I will do someday.

I can't praise this book highly enough, brilliant!

So what of the 'Harry Potter' series as a whole? Well I grew up with Tolkein, I've read 'Lord of the Rings' more times than I can honestly remember and I love it. Rowling has obviously borrowed from Tolkein's work right down to the use of initials but who cares? I've also read Phillip Pullman's “His Dark Materials” which I also enjoyed immensely and intend to re-read some day. The Harry Potter books stand comfortably alongside Tolkein and Pullman, fantasy fiction at it's very best. For anyone who has not read J.K. Rowling, don't be put off by the hype, go out & buy 'The Philosophers Stone' tomorrow. These books deserve all the acclaim that has been heaped upon them and then some.

Get to a book shop tomorrow.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Satire & Stuff

Great Apes by Will Self

Will Self, writer & drug user turned TV 'personality'. A controversial figure that I kind of warm to but I'd never got around to reading one of his books until a friend lent me “Great Apes”. This book is a satire in which a drug using artist, 'Simon Dykes' awakes to find that Chimpanzees are the self aware life form at top of the food chain and humans act as Chimps do in the real world. Simon thinks he is a human and he is helped to rediscover his 'chimphood' by an egotistical psychiatrist named 'Zack Busner' .

For me the best theme in this novel is Self's attack on the chic, artistic 'in crowd' that inhabit trendy London. I despise this kind of self obsessed person so enjoyed the authors assault on them. Other than that I found the book repetitive and a little hard to follow at times. For me this book did not suspend my disbelief, the premise was just too fantastic to ever work. It meandered to a conclusion and got there long after I was tired of it.

This one didn't work for me

Solar by Ian McEwan

I was wandering around 'Waterstones' looking for something new to read and found this. I'd previously enjoyed reading 'Atonement' so thought “what the hell?” and stumped up the cash.

Solar is a satirical novel charting of the later life of Nobel prize winning physicist Michael Beard. Since winning his prestigious award in the seventies Beard has used it as a meal ticket ever since. The main protagonist is not a very nice man; a gluttonous, womanising alcoholic who is not adverse to deception on a grand scale. McEwan finds humour in the chaos of Michael Beards life and also sends up “Blair's Britain” as well as the whole global warming debate. The author evidently doesn't like using chapters to punctuate his writing which makes it awkward to read at times. He also occasionally insists on using over long sentences full of commas and “ands” which I find arrogant, as if he is above the conventions of the English language, (Hemmingway was also guilty of the same sin at times).

That aside, 'Solar' is a good read which made me smile and chuckle to myself. Unlike 'Great Apes', McEwan's novel is a satire that works. At the end of the story, Michael Beard's chickens all come home to roost as his life descends into hilarious farce. The end may be slightly predictable but is wholly satisfying.

Thumbs up! Enjoyed this one.

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

I didn't mean to read another Potter book quite so soon but a lack of alternatives at the time meant the only other choice was...no book. What can I say...I'm really glad I picked this one up!

The fourth book in the series tears up the formula and throws it up in the air like confetti, year four at Hogwarts sees some big changes. Maybe JK Rowling was financially secure enough at this point that she dared take the risk? No matter, the Goblet of fire is longer, deeper and darker than any of its predecessors. Rowling has acknowledged that her readers are growing up and has delivered a proper adult novel for them. Yes all the favourite characters and things that make a Potter book are still there but so much more besides. As usual the story begins in a light hearted manner but the appearance of 'The Dark mark' brushes all of that aside. From here on in the reader knows he/she will have a different Harry Potter experience than they have become accustomed to. New characters, new competitions, more mysteries and greater suspicions. The stakes are higher now and the risks seem more real. The further one reads, the quicker one wants to read. The climax is gripping, chilling and unexpected. You're left wanting to pick up the next book straight away.

The best of the series so far! This is not a 'childrens' book!

Friday, 13 May 2011


Ghost Story by Peter Straub

The title will give away the genre that this book fits into but seriously underplays the horror it contains. Anyone who like reading Stephen King would love this book. It tells the story of a group of old men, all lifelong friends and a series of 'super natural' events that befall them.

The story is set in a small town in the northern USA and centres around the legend of 'Manitou'. There is something evil at large in the town and it seems to have a grudge against the four protagonists and their younger friends. The book begins very slowly leaving the reader wondering where it is going and when will it get there. As winter takes a grip on the town it is cut off from the outside world by a snow storm. Things quickly go bad from here on.... Straub uses this isolation to allow the suspense to build and build. The pace of the book accelerates to a breathless pace as the endgame approaches. The most impressive thing about this horror story, more than any other novel of this genre that I have read, is the author is able to make it believable!

There are very few novels that I have read more than once but this is one of them. In fact I'm sure I will read it yet again some day. Put simply, it is the best horror novel I have ever read.

If you like Stephen King you'll love this!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

After a bit of a break I decided to dip back into the children's Harry Potter collection once again. The third book in Rowling's series continues where the last one left off.

Summer with the Dursleys, back to Hogwarts, Quidditch and danger lurking. 'Prisoner...' is a very, very good book but it's all getting a little too familiar now. Rowling has discovered a successful formula and at this point seems unwilling to deviate from the cash course. That doesn't stop this book being a highly enjoyable read but the format does seem a little predictable now. Reading this back it seems like I don't like it but I do!! The 'dementors' are great monsters and the new 'dark arts' teacher is a star! Rowling does have the knack of writing children's books that adults can share too. However, the first novel is definitely the best of the three so far.

A good read if a little disappointing compared to the first.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Sporting Biographies

In general I prefer fiction to non fiction but recently I was given a pile of biographies which I have been going through.

Shane Warne – Portrait of a flawed genius. By Simon Wilde

This book is summed up quite nicely by the title, very apt.

Obviously being a biography the book charts Warne's early life and his rise to cricketing stardom but the authors own slant focuses on his many controversial moments both on and off the field. Of these some could be put down to the ignorance/arrogance of youth, other misdemeanours understandable for a young man with the world at his feet. Some of Warne's indiscretions are not excusable however. Of most interest to me is the cricket itself, in particular the Ashes clashes and the classic 2005 series most of all. This is without doubt the greatest series I have lived through, England won it despite Warne's brilliance. One thing the book doesn't mention is beating that Australian team allowed us, the English cricket fan to really appreciate Warne, McGrath, Langer (NB. but not Ponting) and all those truly great players, despite all the pain they'd caused us over the years. The 2006 series also features large but we don't enjoy that so much!

Decent read but not sure the author really understands the man he is writing about as well as he would have the reader believe.

Farewell but not Goodbye – My Autobiography by Sir Bobby Robson

By the end of his career Bobby Robson was one of the best loved characters in British football, so much so that it's hard to remember the vilification he received throughout the late eighties when manager of England.

It may be a surprise to some that Robson was a world class footballer himself who represented England many times. The parts that interested me most were when Sir Bobby managed my own local team Ipswich Town, I stood on the terraces through much of the 'Robson era', happy memories. Next job was with England where he rose above the press orchestrated hate campaigns to guide our national team to within one goal of a world cup final. From that day on we all loved him. His career went on and on from there and he enjoyed success everywhere including Newcastle where the owners eventually treated him appallingly. Sir Bobby's story is told in his own words, in his own affable style and he barely has a bad word to say about anybody.

Back in the late seventies football was a world away from the multi million pound industry it has become today. My Dad would take my sister and I to watch the Town train and afterwards we'd hang around and get the players autographs. We met Sir bobby many times and he always had time for a chat. A lovely man.

Really enjoyed this book, thumbs up.

Winning isn't everything – A biography of Sir Alf Ramsey by Dave Bowler

Just about everyone in the British Isles will know Sir Alf was England's World cup winning manager in 1966. However, not many people outside East Anglia will know he was also Ipswich town's manager and guided a humble provincial club to become champions of England. An amazing achievement even in 1962. Sir Alf laid the foundations which Sir Bobby built upon a decade later.

I loved reading about my team's rise to success but most interesting was Ramsey's spell as England manager. What I liked most about this book was it taught me about football in a bygone age. Many of Sir Alf's values should and would be relevant in the game today, had it not been spoiled by the money men. It is abundantly clear that not only was Alf a world class player in his day and a brilliant tactician and manager. It's sad that in this day and age Ramsey would not have been given enough time in the job to work his magic. Sir Alf had the bottle to leave out the “star players” and pick a team that could play together, for example Jimmy Greaves' omission in the later stages of the '66 World cup. Would any recent England manager have had the bottle to leave out Gerrard or Rooney, even with thuggish behaviour off the pitch giving them the ideal excuse? Never!

After the glory years came the fall from grace and shabby treatment from the FA. English footballing arrogance was demonstrated by the way the only English manager to win the world cup was treated.

I can't help thinking that there is much to learn for the modern footballer/manager in this book. So many principles endorsed by Sir Alf should be adhered to in the game today but sadly they're not. Football would be a much better game if they were.

Excellent Read!

Sunday, 20 March 2011


The Help” by Kathryn Stockett

People of my generation will remember seeing the horror that was South African apartheid on our TV screens as we grew up. We stood open mouthed when Mandela walked free. To our children it must be hard to believe that this ever happened. Likewise, a generation before all that, parts of the good old USA were just as bad as South Africa yet many of us have no memory of this and it's as if it's been air brushed from history.

'The Help' is set in Mississippi in the early sixties, a time and a place where racial discrimination and worse was rife. The civil rights movement was only just beginning in earnest and to many people this brought fear and hope in equal measure. The help' is how the well to do white society describe their black servants. There are three central characters, two black and one white and the story involves the unlikely friendship that builds between the three as they collaborate on a book.

Instead of focusing on the lynchings, murders and more dramatic events, the racism of that time is conveyed in the more 'every day' prejudices, attitudes and ignorance shown by the white 'gentry'. Simple things like segregated drinking fountains and toilets. When 'Skeeter' the white character visits Aibileen and Minnie her black friends she is not afraid of the black neighbourhood she drives into but she's constantly fearful of what the white community will do to her if she's found.

'The Help' is a great book which vividly paints the picture of the southern states in the sixties. The sights, sounds, heat and smells are easily visualised and it flows along easily. The fear and ignorance of the times are also very evident. There are times when the book is dark but there are times when it's very funny. It educates, it entertains and the reader will feel better for the experience.

Great read. Highly recommended.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Afghanistan has been a feature of our new reports for over thirty years, for all the wrong reasons. We've seen this county's gradual destruction and every time you think it cannot possibly get worse, it does. Hopefully the last decade has begun a turnaround in the fortunes of this country? Time will tell.

The Kite Runner is a book about Afghanistan, love, friendship, prejudice, betrayal and redemption. Kabul and the surrounding country is portrayed as a vibrant, civilised place, leaning towards the developing world yet still proud of its own culture and traditions which include 'Kite fighting'. By describing the splendour of Afghanistan at its height it makes the horrible spiral of destruction seem all the more terrible. The story is told through the eyes of a child Amir, and later through the eyes of the man he becomes. The other principle characters are his family,servants and neighbours.

Amir's own personal failings and troubles mirror those that befall his country, the tragedies are seen on a personal level and on a world wide scale. Amir and his father are forced to flee to America where they find safety but without their former wealth it's a humbling experience. However Amir has unfinished business and cannot be at peace until he has returned and faced the horror that his country has become under the Taliban. Here too the horror is on both a personal and national scale. At the end it's impossible to stop reading.

Every now and then, one reads a book that makes one feel a better person for doing so and this is one of those. Yes it has some very dark moments and challenging themes but it is brilliantly, beautifully written and ultimately totally uplifting. It's a book that you just eat up as you read, making you greedy for more. Just about every cliché in the book can be used to describe the 'Kite Runner' but if it doesn't move you then you are already dead.

Quite brilliant. If you only read one book all year then make sure it's this one.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Whales and a Wolf

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

Bonfire of the vanities is a satire in which Tom Wolfe introduces the reader to a handful of quite dislikeable characters and then proceeds to throw their lives into turmoil. Set in the most affluent circles of New York in the late eighties it highlights all the selfish greed, and lack of morality that my own memory associates with that decade, (in fact a very similar decade to the one we have just left behind). In fact I think its fair to say that this book couldn't have been set in any other place but New York.

At the beginning of the story the protagonists mostly lead completely separate lives but fate sees their paths crossing. The central character is a Wall street hot shot living the life of virtual royalty in the highest social circles of New York. Other characters include Police, lawyers, religious leaders, writers and hustlers. As the story goes on the reader finds themselves liking some characters a little more but in general we like them a whole lot less as their worlds change forever. For some, life collapses around them, for others fate offers them a 'leg up'. All the protagonists would have done well to remember that “pride comes before a fall”.

As a comment on the nasty capitalist eighties I found this book worked but as a satire it failed to make me laugh. The fact that none of the central characters are the slightest bit endearing means the reader just doesn't care enough to keep turning those pages. Towards the end I was counting the pages and thinking 'how much longer is this going to drag on?'

Might appeal to some but not me.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

There can't be a single person alive who doesn't know that this book tells the story of Captain Ahab's quest to hunt down and kill the white Whale but how many people have ever read it? I have and....it's bloody hard work!

I've heard 'Moby Dick' described as a classic and there is a great story in there that's for sure, but one has to wade through pages and pages describing the technical details of seamanship and killing Whales. This may be of interest to some but not me. In my opinion (which is worth precisely sweet FA), Moby Dick would have benefited from a good healthy edit, remove Melville's semi-auto biographical nautical crap and just stick to the story of a man's obsession with catching a very large sea creature. As a lifelong angler I can certainly relate to that.

Moby Dick has a great story in there, without a doubt but all the other stuff spoils it. Whenever I think of 'Ahab' I see Gregory Peck from the classic film in my minds eye. It's a very good film.

For once, ignore the book and stick to the film.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


Harry Potter and the Philosophers stone by JK Rowling

I've resisted the Harry Potter books for years, I don't really know why? I suppose I like being different, maybe awkward. However with three kids it has been impossible to entirely ignore the Harry Potter phenomenon and I've found myself watching the films, what's more I've enjoyed them. As everyone knows, books are always better than films so sooner or later I was going to have to read the books. When my pile of books waiting to be read dwindled it was time. I'm told the later books are deeper and darker but if I'm going to read them then I have to start at the beginning, with “The Philosophers Stone”.

By the time I was three chapters in I was absolutely and totally hooked. There's nothing I can say that hasn't been said already about Rowling's book only that it's worth the hype. It's a magical adventure yarn and comparisons to LOTR are obvious but that doesn't matter. Rowling makes the world of wizards believable and she does so effortlessly. I'm grateful these books weren't around when I was a kid because I think I would have been absolutely gutted if I hadn't had a letter from Dumbledore on my 11th birthday. If, like me, you've deliberately avoided the Harry Potter books then it's your loss! I'm reading it to my kids at the moment, they love it, I loved it and I'm looking forward to reading the other books, it really doesn't matter how old you are!

Brilliant. If you haven't read it then what are you waiting for?

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Hot on the heels of 'Philosophers Stone' I couldn't resist reading the next book in the Harry Potter series; 'The Chamber of Secrets'.

This book chronicles Harry's second year at 'Hogwarts' and the adventures that befall him and his friends. I suppose you could say it's a little bit darker than the first book as there is real danger stalking the corridors of the school. 'Hogwarts' is without doubt Rowling's greatest creation, something that allows her to do pretty much what she wants within the book and still keep it believable. On the whole it's another cracking read but for me a little too similar to the first book so the overall affect is lessened, the reader has more idea of what to expect. That said it's still very entertaining an at times you just have to keep on reading to find out what happens next.

Excellent. Read it.

Friday, 28 January 2011


This whole blogging thing is strangely addictive, so here's another one. Depending on how you found your way here... STOP!! that was an arrogant assumption that anyone will ever actually read this! As I was saying...some will know I'm a passionate angler and also a devoted follower of the England cricket team. I'm also an avid reader and this is my take on the stuff I read. If, in my opinion something is good I'll say so, if it's bad, likewise. I am after all, nothing if not opinionated.

The Old man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway is one of the most famous writers to have come from the USA and “The old man...” is one of his most famous works. As well as being an author Hemingway was famous for his passion for hunting and angling so its a wonder I didn't dip into his books years ago.

The 'Old man...' is the tale of a very old fisherman who is no longer interested in catching a lot of fish. Instead he is patiently setting his stall for the very largest fish, (something I can definitely relate to!) in this case a monster Marlin in the gulf stream waters off the coast of Cuba. Waters in which Hemingway himself often fished. We never learn the name of the old man but in becoming acquainted with him we learn he is a master fisherman and a knowledgeable seaman. He is also a man able to dig deep on reserves of strength, mental and physical.

This is a very short book which is easy to read and on the whole very enjoyable, especially if you are a fisherman. I do have a bit of a problem with Hemingway's writing style however. I've previously read his last book “True at first Light” which is another good read but at times Hemingway ignores conventions of English language, using 'and' repeatedly in the same sentence making it horrible to read. It's as if he's thinking “I'm Ernest Hemingway, I can do what I like...”. I detect an arrogance in his writing. There are instances of this in “The old man...” but it's not as prevalent as in “First light” and it didn't spoil the book for me.

A classic. Give it a go.

The Good man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Phillip Pullman

A few years ago I read Pullman's “Dark materials” trilogy and this is a breath taking masterpiece in my opinion. (Sadly the film of the 'Golden Compass' was awful!) One day I'll visit this book again, there are very few books I re-read but this will have to be one of them. With this in mind I dived into reading “The good man Jesus...” with high hopes.

This book is an alternative take on the new testament stories, with a clever twist. The title gives the game away, in Pullman's gospel 'Jesus' and 'Christ' are twins. A major theme of “Dark Materials” is religion and Pullman sticks the knife right in so he's obviously not afraid of controversy. It's very easy to read with moments of hilarious heresy and the irreverent part of me loved the fact that Pullman dares to re-tell the most famous story ever told.

It may sound odd, I enjoyed the book but at the same time I was disappointed, from Phillip Pullman I expected more. We all know how the story of Jesus ends but I wanted Pullman's ending to be more bizarre. In a way he's given himself scope to do just this, he could have been really anarchic but did he chicken out?

I've started reading the Harry Potter series to my children (more on this to follow...), this was straight after finishing “The good man Jesus...” and in all honesty I got more pleasure in reading the first couple of chapters of “Philosophers Stone” than I did the whole of Pullman's gospel.

Sitting on the fence, it's worth a read but it ain't great.