Book Review: King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

I seem to be on a bit of a retro-adventure kick in recent months, kicking off with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stuff and I’ve loaded up my Kindle with a bunch of old timey fantasy and adventure books, including this.

king solomon's mines

All I know about H. Rider Haggard is that he created Allan Quatermain, the hunter featured in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics and also the novel She which was made into a pretty cheesy movie starring Ursula Andress and Peter Cushing. Both share the theme of being set in Africa, so I expected a ripping yarn of wild beasts and savage lands.

The book doesn’t disappoint, Quatermain is approached by Sir Henry Curtis, who’s brother has gone missing in Africa searching for Solomon’s Mines, rumoured to house vast wealth in diamonds and gems. Quatermain, saw the man before he vanished and has also met a Portuguese man who’s ancestor claimed to have reached the mines. Despite his own protestations of cowardliness, agrees to go and along with Curtis’ friend, and ex-Navy officer Captain Good, along with their servants, set off across the desert.

Almost dying of thirst they arrive at a lush valley where they encounter a native tribe which is headed up by the evil King Twala, who’s sadistic rule is backed up by mysterious witch Gagool, who uses “magic” to seek out traitors in the rank and purge anyone who gets too powerful. Quatermain’s group are held in high esteem and wonder due to their unusual appearance, but their African guide, Umbopa, attracts the attention of Gagool, who wants him dead.

Umbopa turns out to be Twala’s nephew, who fled years previously and is the rightful king, and many of the generals want to join him in rebellion. Using Good’s diary they use a lunar eclipse to convince Twala and the rebelling forces of their powers, and a civil war begins.

Will Umbopa claim the throne? Are the mines the key to a wealthy, comfortable life for the party? And can they find Curtis’ brother?

This was quite a fun, gripping read, filled with perils and action, even if the narrative device of Quatermain writing his memoir robs it of some danger. But Haggard writes with an easy, fast moving tone which kept me engrossed in the tale.

Quatermain makes an odd narrator, a slightly pompous older man who constantly discusses his “timidity” yet makes his living in the wilds as a hunter and who embraces a perilous mission with very little coercion. I think some of the pomposity is intentional, and Haggard does a good job of making Quatermain and his fellows quite likable in spite of this.

It’s dated in places, there’s an embarrassing patronizing attitude towards the natives throughout, even though Quatermain does seem genuinely affectionate and respectful to some. There’s also an uncomfortable subplot whereby a native girl they rescue falls for Good, and he feels affection for her, which Quatermain sees as a terrible thing to happen, and something that Good would be better avoiding. It reflects the attitude of the time, and it’s possible that Haggard intended Quatermain’s concerns to have more to do with how society would react, but it still sits awkwardly for a modern audience.

So too does a sequence where Quatermain, Curtis and Good slaughter a mess of elephants for their ivory. It may have seemed like an abundance of the beasts to those of the time, but being aware of how many elephants were killed and how close to extinction they’d come it made me uneasy, especially as Haggard talks of rampaging bulls and refers to them as “brutes”, clearly trying to up the ante and portray them as a worthy and terrible foe.

But these quibbles aside it’s massively entertaining, and I found myself flying through it, charmed by the old fashioned adventure story. Haggard’s writing isn’t showy but it gets the job done, and he creates an interesting quest and some hissable villains. All in all, rather good fun.

Verdict: It’s dated and it’s narrator is a bit stuck up, but Haggard’s adventure pulls through as a ripping yarn which remains enjoyable. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Trouble With The Curve

Apparently this is the first movie Clint Eastwood has appeared in without directing since Casper. This is pretty surprising, mainly because I’ve seen Casper and totally blanked Eastwood’s appearance (I’m guessing it was just his voice?)

trouble poster

Anyway, here we see Clint continuing his streak of playing gruff, grumpy old codgers with Gus Lobel, an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves, who’s eyesight is starting to fail. Grumpy and alone he spends his time drinking or at games, and has a strained relationship with his lawyer daughter Mickey (Amy Adams).

Mickey finds him hard work, their only shared interest being baseball, as she’s inherited his love of the game. On the verge of a major presentation which could lead to a partnership her firm but she seems overly closed off, struggling in a relationship with a random suit dude. She feels like Gus abandoned her as a teenager, and is emotionally distant.

The pressure is on as at his club his boss, Pete (John Goodman) is under pressure from an ambitious colleague Phil (Matthew Lillard), who feels Gus is passed it and that analyzing player stats on a computer is a better way to go. With Gus’ contract due to expire it all rests on his next scouting trip to investigate an amateur player, who Phil is interested in pursuing. Phil sends his own man to see if Gus can still hack it.

Realizing his eyes are getting worse Pete asks Mickey for help, and she goes up to North Carolina to join her father on the scouting trip. It’s clear she wants to help and rebuild fences, but Gus’ stubbornness causes problem. Attending games by day she struggles to stay on top of the work she has to do for the presentation.

On the road they meet up with Johnny (Justin Timberlake), and ex-player scouted by Gus, who was forced to retire from injury. He respects Gus and is attracted to Mickey, who he helps to let her hair drown and encourages her to try again with Gus.

Gus (Eastwood) ruins a moment for Mickey and Johnny (Adams and Timberlake)

Gus (Eastwood) ruins a moment for Mickey and Johnny (Adams and Timberlake)

The player seems fine, but Gus realizes that he’s got problems with curveball pitches and advises the Braves not to sign him, telling Johnny to pass on him too. However, Phil disagrees and the Braves sign him. Johnny’s decision to pass lands him in trouble and he leaves, annoyed at both Lobels.

Is Gus going to lose his job? Has the trip cost Mickey the partnership? Will they be able to fix things with Johnny? And were they right about the player, and if so, how can they prove it?

This movie is extremely predictable, if you can’t see where it’s going by the half-way point I can only assume you’re unfamiliar with traditional narratives. There are zero surprises along the way and in places the cheese is a tad overpowering.

What stops this from being utterly terrible is the strength of the cast. First off, it’s Clint Eastwood.

I’m a huge Clint fan, the dude is a screen icon and has made some boss movies in his time. While this is far from his best, it still shows the gruff, laconic charm that made him a star. Nobody plays grumpy better than Clint, the only person who comes close is Tommy Lee Jones.

He makes Gus a believable character- a tough, hard drinking man who like many blokes of a certain age is unwilling to accept or acknowledge his health problems or discuss his feelings. His affection and pride for his daughter is clear, as is his compassion for the players he scouts.

trouble clint

Clint: No one better at being grumpy

There are no massive outbursts, but that’s never been Clint’s style and it works. It means that as the film progresses little chunks of the granite surface fall off to reveal a core made of slightly softer rock. His revelations are understated and come from him finally confessing his fear about not being able to raise Mickey right.

Mickey is the other strength of the film, as Amy Adams continues to impress. Adams manages to capture the tough, steely and focused lawyer but does a fine job of suggesting this is just a front. The character is well written and it’s realistic that the qualities that infuriate her in Gus are ones she possesses too. Adams convinces in the bar scenes as someone who’s grown up around men and is comfortable shooting pool and drinking with the guys.

Adams: Impressive

Adams: Impressive

She’s also wonderfully sweet in the moments where the character let’s her guard down and captures Mickey’s resentment about her abandonment and hurt. The other thing that raises this film is Adams’ chemistry with Timberlake, they sparkle together and bounce of each other like the best on-screen couples.

I have to say Timberlake impressed me. I’ve seen him in other movies, but in this he managed to convey some of the easy charm he appears to exude in interviews. Timberlake makes Johnny an immensely likable presence, slightly goofy and incredibly laid back.

Adams and Timberlake: Great chemistry

Adams and Timberlake: Great chemistry

The supporting cast do well and all the boxes are ticked, but the movie is still a little disappointing.

One of it’s major failings is the fact it’s all done in extremely broad strokes. Early on we see the polite, quiet son of the motel maid being told to study instead of playing baseball, while the player Gus is sent to investigate is cartoonishly obnoxious.

Similarly, Matthew Lillard’s obnoxious suit is extremely two dimensional. Although it is to see he’s still working, but dude, he’s looking old.

Lillard, who looks so old!

Lillard, who looks so old!

All these one note characters kinda make it even more cliched and sap some of the dramatic tension out of the plot, but it’s watchable, easy fare and fairly entertaining.

Verdict: An accomplished cast carries a cliched and simple plot through and emerge with an entertaining if not demanding movie. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Generation Kill by Evan Wright

Despite knowing that war is often pointless, horrible and grim, it holds a grim fascination for me. It’s different from the chipper obsession I had with war movies as a child, where good triumphed and heroes wisecracked their way against the Germans and death was heroic, noble and quick. As a teen my friends and I went through a phase of watching ‘Nam movies and oddly enjoying the grim, pessimistic view.

In both phases I always thought of one thing- what would it be like to be in a war.

Hell, I assume.

I’ve never had serious thoughts of joining up, in fact I think back in WWI I’d have been a conscientious objector, or just asked to serve as a medic. I’m not cut out for war, I’m not a fighter, I’m a bit soft and I imagine I’d be a coward, but I’m still fascinated by those who do go to fight.

I’ve read books about WWII and Vietnam, and always kind of felt more akin with the lads sent to Vietnam. They were the first proper teens to go to war I guess- they liked movies and music, got drunk and were sent off to a war which wasn’t clean cut. Against the Nazis I could see a reason for going, but Vietnam must have been a tougher sell, and when they got there it wasn’t what they expected.

So reading about a generation even closer to mine going off to fight, especially as told by a writer who’s work I admire, Evan Wright, led me to check out this book which follows his time embedded with the Marines of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion as they spearheaded the invasion of Iraq.

generation kill

The book confirms many of your preconceived notions of war- the monotony and rising tensions which are broken with flurries of intense pressure and violence. Young men forced to confront death and the bloody aftermath of their fights, as well as the consequences of their decisions and orders. There are horrors, tragedy and incidents galore, but throughout Wright never glamourizes the action, it’s terrifying in it’s intimacy and he captures the chaos that descends.

Central to his book are the Marines. He gives little sketches of their actions, capturing their quirks and personalities, as well as developing insight into their reactions to events that unfold around them. At the start many seem oafish, gung ho stereotypes, but it’s acknowledged that the image of themselves as elite cowboys has been fostered by the Corps, and that for many the bravado covers more complex characters and feelings. They come from different backgrounds and have joined for different reasons, but they share a bond and form friendships.

Some of the bluster remains, but the OTT antics of some of the men, particularly one nicknamed Captain America, are viewed with distaste by most of the men and there’s a sense many just want to do their job as professionally as possible, not kill innocents and get home safely. They are not the cartoon heroes or baby killing nutters that soldiers are often stereotyped as, but young men shoved into terrible circumstances on the flimsiest of grounds, and their youth often emerges in their surprising moments of naivety and wonder, but Wright shows us that many are hardening due to exposure to the chaos of war.

The battalion were sent in a dangerous mission North, ahead of the rest of the coalition forces, encountering stiff resistance, often with little or no support. Driving in convoys of Humvees, often deliberately used to expose ambush points, the unit, trained for stealth and small force missions are forced into combat which they are not prepared for. Throughout the well oiled US military machine is exposed to have quite a few kinks- insufficient supplies, poor communication and commanding mistakes pile up to endanger lives and make their mission even harder.

Wright’s writing is powerful and engaging in a fairly no frills way, he captures the grim reality of day-to-day life of the invading forces and recounts the incidents in a visceral way that packs quite a punch. Some moments left me astonished by what the Marines have to see, and marveling at how they, for the most part, keep their sanity when faced with the situation.

That’s not to say it’s all bleak, there are odd moments of black comedy and in the men’s profanity laden chatter there’s a sense of genuine affection and comradeship under the insults. Several of the men are around for much of the story and I became involved in their story, with Wright really grounding your interest in the story.

The men question what they’re doing and even in these early stages there are signs that the lack of thought towards Iraq’s post-Saddam future could spell disaster. It’s a great document of the war and after leaving Iraq Wright addresses how attitudes towards the war changed in the US, as well as updating us on what became of the men.

The above cover has a reference to Michael Herr’s Dispatches, and while it can’t quite match Herr’s powerhouse account of Vietnam this is still an extremely well written insight into war and definitely worth checking out to see what the modern day soldier experiences in the field.

Verdict: A fascinating and extremely well written first hand account of life among the invaders of Iraq. Tough in places, but hard to put down and Wright ensures you care about the men involved and see the effects war has on them. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Do you go to hell for telling an Archbishop not to be a dick?

Okay, so last week gay marriage became legal here in Wales and across the bridge in England. Good times.

I know that civil partnerships were a thing already and some folks, like one of my flatmates, might argue that if they had that why were the gays getting so uptight about still wanting gay marriages?

Well, because a civil partnership isn’t the same thing. The fact they’re called something else shows that while legally they were pretty close they were still marked out as different, and seen by many as less. For true equality it had to be the same wording, and that’s why I’m chuffed that they became legal at the end of March.

Rainbow flags were flown in celebration

Rainbow flags were flown in celebration

There was a bunch of stuff online of couples celebrating and tying the knot as soon as it was legit, which was pretty cool.

Most of the folks I’ve run into are all for it, I mean, I am talking about mainly younger people here (30 and below, as I clutch at straws to remain a “young person”), but a fair few older people have expressed support too. I think the issue is less divisive than is made out, too. Sure there are some full on supporters in both camps, but lots of folks live in the “doesn’t effect me, so, whatever” middle ground, which let’s face it, is pretty much saying you don’t have a problem with gay marriage.

Of course, there are some of the “no” camp who are still unhappy.

Take for example the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Here’s the thing, someone needs out to point out that Welby has to get on board, because with gay marriage being the law of the land, the Queen’s on board, and the Queen is the head of the Church of England. That’s the way it works, and has done since Henry VIII started it up because the Pope told him he couldn’t have a divorce (which always kinda nullifies any CoE objections based on the “sanctity of marriage”).

The AB of C, Welby

The AB of C, Welby

So, first of all, get with the programme, Welby, but go ahead why are you still against the CoE backing it up? Well, in response to being asked if they’d accept it he replied:

“The impact of that on Christians in countries far from here, like South Sudan, like Pakistan, Nigeria and other places would be absolutely catastrophic and we have to love them as much as the people who are here.”

I read that two days ago, and the reason I’ve only got around to posting today is because I needed to calm down. Had I posted immediately after reading it, this post would have been entitled “**** Justin Welby, you *************************!”

Come on, don’t be a dick, your grace.

Stop trying to make your unacceptance seem like a moral stance, because you’re on some seriously shaky ground playing that card. I’d have more respect for you if you at least owned up to your prejudice.

In countries where homosexuality is illegal and those suspected of homosexuality fall victim to some seriously heinous actions, I doubt that the CoE accepting gay marriage is going to lead them to turn on the local Christians. I mean, I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing in a lot of these countries the local Christians are probably quite vocal in their condemnation of the gays, in fact, what’ll probably happen is local churches will sever any ties with the CoE.

And even if this was the case, doesn’t it seem a bit defeatist. “Oh, if we accept gay rights, people elsewhere will get killed”.

We let women vote here in the UK years ago, after serious protests. Yet in other countries this would be unacceptable? Should we have not let them vote because women elsewhere who decided they wanted some rights would get hurt?

Similarly slavery. Abolition of slavery happened here in Britain (1833), decades before it happened in America (1865). Hell, in some parts of the States voicing anti-slavery opinion could get you in some serious trouble. Should we just have kept our slaves so that people elsewhere were safe?

You can’t deny people human rights at home because people elsewhere don’t have them. In fact, the opposite is advisable. The more rights we, and other countries, give our citizens moves things along. When we say that discrimination or denial of rights is wrong it sends a message. It lends our support to those suffering elsewhere, our human rights groups will campaign so that those rights are protected elsewhere, and that we are thinking of those people who still live deprived of those rights.

We set an example in embracing different people. It’s why preserving the rights of others is vital.

To change gears massively, it’s like Halal meat. We protect that because we accept other cultures and religions. Elsewhere, religious freedom isn’t a given. But we must hold firm. You can’t criticize the oppression of Christians abroad if you’re infringing on the rights of Jews, Muslims or any other faith, if you do your hypocrisy is plain to the world.

Here in the West we have the chance to set an  example of acceptance and equality. I’m not saying, that those countries Welby listed are just going to follow our lead, but we set that example. And the triumph of groups like Stonewall here emboldens those elsewhere to fight for their rights, to not hide in shame and fear, but to see that there is a potential for change, and a way for society to evolve into something more accepting. It won’t be easy, in fact, it’ll be heart breakingly difficult at times, and the cost may be high.

Sadly, that seems to be the way things work in this f**ked up world, for people to get rights others have to risk all, battle hard and sometimes suffer for. I wish this wasn’t the case, but you keep fighting and one day the world will be a better place, not just for your group, but for all. Because giving someone else rights doesn’t diminish yours, unless you’re afraid of losing the “right” to abuse and persecute.

The thing that gets me the most is that Welby’s comments seem painfully un-Christian. I mean, I may be misunderstanding my Bible, after all, I’m a retired amateur and he’s a professional at the top of the game, but I don’t remember any instance where Jesus takes the attitude of “Do the right thing. Unless doing the right thing hurts you and yours, in which case, screw ‘em!” Which, is basically what Welby is saying, when you strip it down.

He talks about seeing a mass grave in South Sudan where Christians were killed over fears that it would force everyone to be gay (I’m not sure what he’s referring to but here’s the article). That’s a tragedy. A tragedy brought about by ignorance, prejudice and cruelty.  A terrible, horrifying example of why we need to increase awareness, understanding and equality. Everywhere. Starting at home and hoping the good spreads.

I know some people are probably saying “But, Chris you can’t compare the two or measure them side by side, homosexuals in the UK didn’t have it that bad”. And you’d have a point, but human rights aren’t a sliding scale, it’s all or nothing. You can’t say, “I know it’s rough that you can’t marry, but at least we’re not arresting you anymore”, because the core tenet of human rights is that all rights are protected, for everyone, everywhere, as long as they’re not harming anyone else, they have the right to live their life how they want- to express their love, beliefs and individuality.

A man in Welby’s position has a chance to take a stand, to help the CoE move into the modern day.

To accept, with love, a group of God’s children that they have treated badly in the past. To provide comfort to their members who’s sexuality may be causing them problems or doubts. Welby could offer a hand or a shoulder to those homosexual Christians who must feel abandoned by both sides at times. The unaccepting Church and the gay community which sometimes criticizes and demonizes religion. Welby could make fences and help those people out, rebuild relationships and families.

And again, the dude probably knows more than me, but from what I remember of Sunday School, that sounds like what JC woulda done.

That acceptance, compassion and love is what Christianity is all about in it’s best moments- helping others, even when they are different from you. Look at those WWJD bracelets and you’ll know I’m right, Welby.

JC

So, I hope Welby’s stance changes, and that the example set here in England and Wales has positive effects elsewhere.

Oh, and a hearty congratulations to all the couples, straight and gay who have got married recently.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Misdirection

There’s an old saying that states that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. In the early 21st century you can probably add “and One Direction fans will behave like complete idiots”.

I got no beef with the group, they do perfectly fine catchy pop music, although their cover of Blondie is an abomination of which we shall not speak. But their fans?

Seriously, as a group these teenage girls are capable of some massive lapses in judgement, sanity and basic decency online.

1d dog

Exhibit A

Researching this post (yeah, I do research, unbelievable, right?) I watched some of the Channel 4 documentary Crazy About One Direction, which featured a group of teenage girls spewing out their love for the group, creeping around hotels trying to find the boys and making statements that you know their future selves are going to cringe at.

It was loco. I get being a fan of stuff. I get going to gigs. I can just about see waiting outside to get a picture/autograph/glimpse of someone I admire. But some of the stuff these girls did was hella weird. Going to their old schools, threatening Taylor Swift (the malicious glee of some of the fans based on tabloid rumour and speculation was ridiculous), there was all sorts. Worst were the girls who acknowledged that sometimes they crossed boundaries.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing about the band and their followers today is because Directioner(the name for the band’s fans) Disorder struck again this week. The target was pop star Tulisa, formerly of N-Dubz and judge on previous X Factor series. Tulisa was attending a party and went dressed as a Disney princess, and took a snap with Niall, one of the 1D boys. The picture was put online and was rather cute:

Tulisa with Niall

Tulisa with Niall

Adorable.

But, just this was enough to get the online hate flowing. The Directioners seem to be glued to their smartphones and waiting for news of the boys to pop up. When it does they are ready to go in two directions (no pun intended)- manic joy or complete, disgusting vitriol.

Now, I’m gonna cover my ass here. I’m not saying all One Direction fans are hormonal tweeting berserkers, I’m sure some are lovely young ladies who just like the music and the boys looks, but there’s are a high proportion of dicks out there, and they were quick to charge Tulisa.

1d mad

 

Bearing in mind, this is not a romantic picture, it’s a picture of two friends larking about at a party.

But, this doesn’t matter to the fans and they pile on, with insults and threats flying through the twittersphere (urgh, I feel like a douche just writing that word). Directioners issue more threats than the villain in an 80s action movie.

Tulisa handled it pretty well, and told them to “pipe down, kids”.

I imagine that being threatened by a teenage girl online isn’t that intimidating. But a deluge of them? Coupled with a stream of abuse, must be disconcerting to say the least. I feel bad for Pixie Geldof who got this torrent of abuse, just from one Directioner.

Pixie Geldof catching heat from the Directioners

Pixie Geldof catching heat from a Directioner

I just can’t understand this behaviour, at all. I know what it’s like to be a fan, and a teenager, but I would never have thought it acceptable to start threatening or insulting someone just because of what I read online.

Do these kids (I assume they’re all in their teens, because anyone over 18 engaging in this sort of thing strikes me as kinda pathetic) not realize how horrible this is? Why send hate to someone  you don’t even know about something you only know little bits of the story about?

Take Taylor Swift, for example, who got a ton of grief of Directioners. We don’t know fully what happened with her and Harry, or how serious it was to begin with. It appears that if you’re seen with Swift it’s assumed you’re dating her, so who knows how far it went. And even if she did dump him, and upset him, so what? That’s what happens. Life sucks, get a helmet!

He’s a big lad, I’m sure he’ll recover.

And what possible outcome are they hoping for? Swift to reconsider and take him back? But they hate that they were dating? Harry to see their tweet and think, wow this teenage girl telling Taylor to go die really cares for me, I’m going to get right round there and ask her to marry me, she’s the only one who cares and understands me?

Come on, ladies. Get a grip on yourselves. If you can’t understand why it’s wrong maybe flip it, maybe imagine that one of your beloved boys dumps some chick. Would you like it if all that girl’s followers started blasting him and telling him they were gonna whack him? No, you’d have another meltdown.

So step away from the laptop, put the smartphone down, take a deep breath and think that maybe, just maybe you can respond to news about one of your idols with a sense of decency and perspective. Does it matter that much? Does it really effect you? Does it warrant being abusive to someone? I’m gonna guess that the answer to those questions is a resounding “no”.

You don’t want to see them sad, I appreciate that. You might be a little jealous seeing them with someone else, I get that too. But that doesn’t give you the right to send hate out into the world, because (a) that’s just not nice (b) you’re ruining someone else’s day and (c) it makes you and the rest of the 1D fans look like bellends.

Ladies, in short, don’t be a dick.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

This is one of those books I’ve heard a lot about but never actually read, but I downloaded it for my Kindle and thought I’d check it out.

The novel is set in 1914, and our narrator is Richard Hannay, an ex-pat back in London for a while. Bored with city life and polite society, Hannay is at his wits’ end until his neighbour, Scudder begs to be let in to his apartments. Scudder is in fear for his life, revealing that he is a spy who has uncovered devious plans afoot which will plunge Europe into war and leave Britain in line for a kicking. All this will kick off in a few weeks time, triggered by the visit of a prominent Greek politician and an important meeting.

39 steps

Scudder tells Hannay and lies low at his flat, but is killed a couple of days later. Hannay fears he will be the prime suspect and that he is the only one who can stop the events Scudder predicted, and so goes on the run. Traveling to Scotland Hannay finds himself pursued by the police and shady German operatives. Can he evade capture? Will he stop the events that will start the war?

I kinda dug this book, although I had a bit of a panic in the early stages because Scudder starts outlying his theory and places the blame on “the Jews”, and I thought that things had taken a rather ugly, anti-Semitic turn. Luckily Buchan has this turn out not to be the case and Scudder’s theory is erroneous and based in his own prejudices which are dismissed.

In the dedication of the edition I read, Buchan writes that it was intended to be a British version of American pulpy thrillers, and as such it definitely works. The plot rattles along at a decent pace and there’s a constant tension hanging over Hannay as he goes on the lam. There is, however, rather a lot of good fortune and coincidence working in his favour, and Buchan’s Scotland is peopled by a seemingly endless line of good Samaritans.

This is a minor quibble and it makes for a rather gripping adventure, which I blazed through in a couple of days. It’s a weird book in many respects, as it’s set in the run up to the First World War, meaning that Hannay seems doomed to fail, and in fact, the book ends with war beginning and Hannay joining up. Despite the foregone conclusion it hangs together well and the ending doesn’t feel like a disappointment, jolly good fun on the whole.

Verdict: A massively engaging and entertaining page turner, even if there are moments that stretch credibility but a distinctly old school feel to proceedings makes it all rather charming. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Beating around the Bush

Last month singer Kate Bush announced that she was going to perform her first live dates in quite a while having signed on to do a residency at the Hammersmith Apollo.

I gotta say, I was largely indifferent to this news. I kinda got why they were making a big deal, as I said it’s been a long time since she toured or anything, and Kate Bush is one of those people who has been given the “legend” tag.

Personally, I’m not a fan of Kate Bush, I don’t know much about her back catalogue beyond “Don’t Give Up”, “Running Up That Hill” (mainly because of the Placebo version) and, of course, “Wuthering Heights”. This is probably her most famous piece and the common image of her is performing the song, again, I’m not a fan.

Until I was about 16 I hadn’t realized there were any lyrics, just thought it was some weirdy arty wailing song that was inexplicably popular. I couldn’t work out why it was named after a famous novel, until I actually realized it was about the characters from the book.

It didn’t improve my enjoyment.

Bush in the "Wuthering Heights" era

Bush in the “Wuthering Heights” era

Anyway, I would have just let the story pass, until it was announced that Bush’s dates had sold out in 15 minutes.

Now, the Apollo is a pretty big venue, it’s used for comedy shows by the BBC and I’ve heard about the place, which is a good sign. It turns out it can hold 5,000 people. So, good on her.

But I was a bit amazed by the fact that her residency is 22 nights.

Here’s the thing, I can see why the first gig sold out so quick, maybe a few of the other gigs- this is a much hyped act who hasn’t performed in years, so explains that it has an “I was there” factor to it. I mean, if it was half a dozen gigs you’d be in the chosen few, but we’re talking 110,000 people who can share that accolade.

Further dates were added after this went up

Further dates were added after this went up

What boggles my mind is that people were willing to fork out all that money to see somebody whose last proper tour was in 1979.

You’re taking a big gamble on Bush putting on a good show.

I’m sure there’s a lot of planning and rehearsal going on, but the bands who tend to do best on the road are the ones who are always working on it. Bush is going to be rusty at playing in front of a live audience, and 22 is a lot of dates to play for anybody.

I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay that much to see somebody live without knowing if they were going to bring it every night. The first few nights at least may prove to be a little shaky, but what if Bush can’t hack it live and the whole thing is a disaster? Everybody loses.

If I was returning to the stage after a prolonged gap I’d much rather do it in a low key manner- open for another act or some smaller gigs, but going straight out in front of 5,000? That’s a massive risk to take.

I hope Bush pulls it off, or there are going to be a lot of disappointed figures out there.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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