Music In The Mud – Bruce Springsteen At The Isle Of Wight Festival

……….I’ve discovered that Harry Potter and Bruce Springsteen have a lot in common, even if only from my personal perspective. In both cases I didn’t get what all the fuss was about initially and I came to really appreciate Harry and Bruce later than most other people did! I didn’t get into the Harry Potter books till after Deathly Hallows was published- but once I started I thought the books were fantastic and I read them one after the other. Originally when I’d heard stories of people queuing all night to get the first read of say The Half Blood Prince and even flying to the US to get a copy ahead of the British publication, I thought it was all over the top and hysterical. Yet coming to the books late I stayed up all night to start Half Blood Prince the second I read the last page of Prisoner. So I was a “Johnny Come Lately!” to Harry Potter but once I started I was hooked.
Springsteen is exactly the same. Over the years I’ve passed on countless opportunities because it just all seemed a bit hysterical and over the top. My reasoning was “He can’t be THAT good”. I was wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, and then a little more wrong. Bruce Springsteen live really is THAT good.
At the festival itself, the early indications of just how keen some fans are to see Springsteen was evident in the number of Americans we met. Sure they all made positive noises about looking forward to seeing Tom Petty or Pearl Jam – but it was Springsteen they’d come to see and they were fulsome in their support of him. We met lovely people from Miami, Seattle, New Jersey, Minneapolis, Washington, Chicago and they all said more or less the same thing when I told them I’d never seen Springsteen before – “It’s unique. You’ll love it!”. On the bus on the way in on Sunday an English guy was explaining that he was looking forward to seeing Springsteen for the fourth time – that week!!!! He’d been in Madrid the previous weekend, then Sunderland and then Manchester during the week. His mantra was the same as everybody else – you’re about to see something truly special.
By the time the E Street Band started, the combination of the hype from everyone else, the great sets before Springsteen by both The Vaccines and Noel Gallagher and the fact that I’d partaken of a beer or 5 meant I was ready to have a great time – but even that doesn’t explain just how good he was.
So what’s so special. Firstly he played for 2 hours and 50 mins and it felt like the blink of an eye. The energy and pace combined with his showmanship are simply awesome. A guy of 23 with this drive would be something special – in a man of 63 it’s of almost superhuman proportions. He’s all over the stage, he’s at the front up close with fans then he’s jumping like a good un’ alongside Nils Lofgren or Little Steven. His mastery of the crowd was, well, masterful. But above all the music is just fantastic. It wasn’t until I experienced it that I realised how much great music he’s made over the years. And he ends it with a greatest hits medley I guess – which ordinarily I’d not be keen on, but here, with these songs and this atmosphere, to do anything other than finish with hit after hit would have done him, his band, and the crowd a disservice.
It was spectacular. I’ve never sung as much at a gig, I’ve never cheered as much, I’ve never danced as much and I’ve never enjoyed live music as much as I did on Sunday night.
It was a privilege to see him and to have been there. It wouldn’t be fair to the festival to say he made it because it was a brilliant weekend. But if the Isle Of Wight Festival was a glorious cake, Springsteen was the top three layers, the icing and the cherry all by himself!
I’m destined to be a Springsteen – bore now – telling anybody who’ll listen, or more likely who can’t escape easily, just how wonderful it was.
To those who might read this and have seen him before – you’ll know exactly how I feel. For those who might read this and have never seen him, do it if you ever get the chance – trust an old sceptic – in the words of those mud-encrusted, Isle of Wight Americans “It’s unique. You’ll love it!”!!!!!

Music In The Mud – The Isle Of Wight Festival Day 3

……….The conundrum of Day 3 was that while the mud was a thousand times worse, I ended up sunburnt! Ah the joys of the British Summer! As Bruce Springsteen said himself during his set “This is Summer? Jesus Christ!!!!”.
Torrential rain overnight had finished the site off completely! The mud was back to the stuff of legend – it wasn’t perhaps quite on the scale of Glastonbury mud baths of late 1990’s or the epic mud of 2007 at Glastonbury. But I’ve got a feeling it will be in the pantheon of glorious swamps we’ve lived in for most of us who were there. It was on the way to becoming a “badge of honour” by Saturday – the mud of Sunday guaranteed it’s “I was there at the Isle Of Wight in 2012 – you know the Year Of The Mud!” status forevermore!
And then the sun appeared, and it stayed in the sky all day, having the dual effect of turning most of us pink and ratcheting up the stench of sweat and sewage!!!! But, regardless of all of that, Day 3 was fantastic – absolutely fantastic!!!!!
In reviewing the music for the day it seems ludicrous to even mention anyone else in the same post as Springsteen. So I’ll post a separate review because he deserves to have a post all to himself – but for now I’ll simply say he was absolutely MAGNIFICENT! I’ve honestly never seen anything that good!
Had he been all there was to see, he’d have been worth it on his own. But Day 3 was filled with lots of other great stuff.
We watched the previous X Factor winner Matt Cardle and I for one, take my hat off to the bloke. He could take easy money and sing Simon Cowell derived garbage in poxy, limp, cover versions. But he gets up there with his guitar, and plays and sings his own songs and when he does a cover, it’s different and original and well done. Matt Cardle can play and he’s a great singer – perhaps the only weakness in his set was his songs were all a little bit too angsty and introspective ( give away are song intros about difficult relationships and ex-girlfriends!). He’d benefit by taking a leaf out of his mate James Walsh’s book, who followed him on the Garden Stage. The ex- Starsailor frontman was great. His voice is super, the songs are strong, including the new numbers, and he was backed up by a good band. He also did the best cover of the weekend, a lovely tribute to recently deceased Levon Helm with his version of The Weight by The Band.
Other musical highlights included a very clever little Andrews Sisters- style group of three young women called The Three Bells. I think it’s great that young people decide on a musical style and individual approach to music in the way they want to make it.
The rest of our day was spent at the Main Stage partly to make sure we got somewhere near the front for Springsteen. We watched both The Vaccines and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and both were terrific. The Vaccines combine such energy with some great tunes and quirky lyrics. You can’t help but bounce up and down when they are on – not easy to keep up at my age but then the sun was starting to go down and I’d had a few scoops by then to keep me going!! I loved the High Flying Birds album, and it was great live. I guess the Noel or Liam debate is a kind of modern equivalent of the old ‘do you prefer Lennon or McCartney’ debate. I’m very much in the Noel camp – I think he’s a really really good songwriter and while he might not have that iconic rock voice of his brother, he’s still a damn good singer. Live, they’re great. The Oasis songs in the set were all ones I like and the atmosphere on the anthemic sing-along stuff was just brilliant.
And so the festival closed and the sun set, to Bruce. Wearily we trudged back to Newport, abandoning the chaos of the bus system at the site itself. We waited hours for a taxi, with hundreds of others, and though we were all knackered, dirty, dishevelled and covered head to foot in dry mud, the atmosphere from the festival carried on – we even had the archetypal chirpy Aussie in the taxi queue orchestrating If You’re Happy And You Know It Clap Your Hands! Don’t get me wrong – none of us could be arsed to join in, but we appreciated her efforts all the same!
Day 4 brought reminiscing, packing, scones, the beach, and a day without wellies! Heaven!

Music In The Mud! – The Isle Of Wight Festival Day 2

……..There may have been some kind of optical illusion happening yesterday but there seemed to be slightly less mud at the festival! At least it had dried out in places and in the other places it had slid back to cloying ankle- deep on the whole!
The music headline stuff yesterday wasn’t my kind of thing – Biffy Clyro are a bit too hit and miss for me and Pearl Jam are just one of those bands I don’t get! However, though the headline acts weren’t my cup of tea, there were musical highlights.
We loved The Christians, given a terrible mid-afternoon slot on the Garden Stage but they were really entertaining. That also applied to Madness. Apart from an embarrassing sideshow Beastie Boys tribute number!!( men in their 50’s can’t stand in fields shouting “You’ve got to fight, for your right, to party!”). On the whole though they were great fun and there was a good atmosphere.
Best though was a cracking little singer called Charley MacAulay. We saw her in the Hipshaker arena, following on from a fabulous DJ playing Northern Soul. Charley MacAulay has a fantastic voice, soulful and strong and she has around her a brilliant 8 piece band who were really terrific. Finding gems like this is one of the best bits of a festival and I reckon Charley MacAulay is one of the best we’ve ever discovered!
The other great thing about IOW Festival is the fabulous atmosphere and the welcome we’ve found from the people who live and work on the island. One surprise for us has been how many visitors come for the festival from the USA. Most of them are here for Springsteen – and why wouldn’t they. We’ve met people from Miami, Minneapolis, New Jersey, Chicago and Seattle. And all of them seem to be enjoying the festival, the music and like us, all comment on how welcoming the Isle Of Wight people have been.
Today more rain, more mud, but more music and at the end of it all, Bruce Springsteen!!!! Can’t wait. So on with the wellies again and here we go for Day 3!

Music In The Mud – Day 1 Of The Isle Of Wight Festival………..

……….The first day of the festival typified what I think we call the indomitable spirit of music fans going to outdoor gigs in the UK!!!!
The problems at the start of the festival were well documented on the national news – flooded car parks, tractors dragging cars out of quagmires, people sleeping in cars, the islands traffic so gridlocked that at one point the traffic jam went all the way back to the ferry terminal, leaving one ferry stranded in the Solent in a Force 7 gale!!!! But eventually, the stages opened – and we had a great time!
The mud is everywhere of course – in the good bits it’s ankle deep, in the bad bits it’s calf deep and in the really bad bits – you don’t want to know!!! But bizarrely it doesn’t bother you after 5 mins – you just get on with wallowing in it, wading through it and even sinking in it!
The three best bits for us yesterday were Example, Tom Petty and Elbow.
The surprise was Example. I’d not heard much of him before but I thought he was great. He worked the crowd brilliantly and the atmosphere was so energetic and almost frenetic! It’s amazing how much fun you can have jumping up and down in the mud with tens of thousands of others!
Tom Petty was the headline on the Main Stage last night. He was very good, the sound was great and it was particularly good to notice that after some of the stuff we saw here for the Diamond Jubilee, here was an older rock star whose voice had survived really well!
But of course the highlight was Elbow. We wormed and ducked and weaved to about 5-6 rows from the front – so not only did we hear it brilliantly, we saw it up close, which is always best! The set was great and the music was as I’d expect from the best band in the world. Bloody magnificent! We think Sir Guy of Garvey is STILL the greatest thing since sliced bread!
Fortunately for us we are doing the festival the more luxurious way! We’re staying in the lovely Fernbank Hotel in Shanklin – it was a bit of a trek back from the site but worth it for a comfy bed, clean sheets and a shower this morning! What an old git I’ve become!
Anyway – on with the wellies for Day Two!!!!!

“Only Robinson Crusoe Had Everything Done By Friday!”……….Something For The Weekend June 22nd 2012

………I’m reliving my youth this weekend but accepting at the same time that I’m not quite the youth I was! We are off to the Isle Of Wight Festival and really looking forward to it – well at least to the event and the music and the atmosphere – we’re less keen on the rain and the mud bit! Like many people, festivals have been a great part of my life, particularly the one enjoyed by my younger self! I’m off to the the Isle Of Wight therefore knowing that experience of festivals means little if it looks like you’re the oldest person there – but at fifty I’m hopeful there will be a few there older than me – Bruce Springsteen for a start! However in recapturing my youth, I’m not going all the way and camping! I had actually booked for us to camp and my heart told me that I’d be fine with 4 nights of mud and rain in a tent – my partners brain however is a more rational and realistic creature and she’s got us booked into a hotel instead! In public I mutter about being embarrassed to be attending a festival and leaving the site to sleep in a hotel (with swimming and spa for god’s sake!), but in private and inside my old aching bones, I’m relieved and delighted to have the comfort of a hotel bed and breakfast to soothe me at the end of each night and the start of each day! Anyway, with the festival, there’s an Isle of Wight flavour to my something for the weekend this week!

Something To Listen To………..

The highlight of the festival for my partner, and I would guess for many others, will be the Sunday night appearance of Bruce Springsteen.I’m certainly looking forward to it, but there will be one set that eclipses that for me, at least in terms of anticipation. The second last act on the main stage this Friday night are Elbow – who I love more than other band. No matter how often I get to see them they never disappoint. The songs are wonderful, the lyrics great, and Guy Garvey works a crowd as well as anyone – in fact the only person I’ve seen who is as good at working at crowd is Badly Drawn Boy! I’ve seen them in some dives, some small venues, and now they are becoming pretty big, in some of the larger venues – they’ve been great in all of them. But they are best at a festival – I’ve seen them twice at festivals already and I can’t wait for festival gig no.3!!!

This is the uplifting and anthemic “One Day Like This!” – around 8.15 – 8.30 pm tomorrow evening, I reckon I’ll be singing along to this with thousands of wet, bedraggled others and thoroughly loving every second of it!

Something To Get Onto Sky Plus To Watch Later!……….

The Isle of Wight festival is being shown on Sky Arts and on Sky Arts HD – so we’ll have our Sky Plus set to record as much as possible. But they plan to show 6 hours a day so we’ll also need to hope our Sky Remote works from the Isle of Wight! I guess we’ll look forward to seeing Bruce Springsteen as we expect to be watching him live on the night from a distance of several miles away! We’re also looking forward to re-watching Tom Petty, Noel Gallaghers High Flying Birds and the wonderful James Walsh of Starsailor. We’re also looking forward to fast forwarding any showing of the garbage that will no doubt be served up by Jessie J!!!!

Something To Watch Live If You Can Or Later In The Hotel If You Are Us!……….

Thursday through to Sunday sees the quarter-finals of the European Championships. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this tournament so far. I think we’ve seen really exciting end to end games and the atmosphere comes across really well. As an addition, I’d never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I prefer the coverage on ITV to BBC. The studio set on the balcony in Warsaw works really well and their pundits have been good – I’ve especially liked Strachan, Southgate and Keane (all hail the mighty Keano as far as I’m concerned!) and have been pleasantly surprised by Jamie Carragher, who is also good. The Beeb on the other hand feels a little flat. Anyway, the quarter-finals should be cracking if the games in the group stages are anything to go by. At the moment I’ve no idea who will win but I hope it will be Spain – when you play football the way they do, which is quite beautiful to watch, it deserves to take the title in my book! Here are the games and my tips for each of the quarter-finals. At this stage I’m starting to get slightly nervous that England might well go on and win this so I can’t help myself – I’d like to see them knocked out now so I can relax and enjoy the rest of the tournament! Anyway here are my predictions

 

Game

My Tip

Score Prediction

Quarter Final One

Czech Republic v Portugal

Portugal

1-3

Quarter Final Two

Germany v Greece

Germany

3-0

Quarter Final Three

Spain v France

Spain

1-0

Quarter Final Four

England v Italy

Italy

1-1

(Italy win on penalties!)

Something To Learn Off By Heart……….

I’ve looked through my books and had a look on the internet and it seems there’s not a lot of poetry out there about music festivals! However I did find one very clever and interesting poem, composed by Glastonbury’s poet in residence, Jo Bell, in 2010. The first verse is a pretty good and accurate evocation of the good, the bad and the ugly of being at a festival! And from a personal perpective on the list – I’m looking forward to the bacon butties, the colour, and the freedom (though that does sound a bit 1960’s – 1970’s Woodstock-ish!). I can live with the wristbands, and the conversations, and the wellies, and the moshpits (though at my age my adventures at the front are really well behind me!) and the sweat. I’ll get a shower as I’m going the creature comforts route and I’m too bloody old for everything else!

Something To Read……….

I’ve been reading some Beryl Bainbridge all week, as part of the Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week being hosted by Gaskella. Ive not read as much this week as normal so I’m a bit behind. However this weekend, in between listening to music, drinking, drying off, and picking mud out of my ears, I’ll be finishing Beryl’s “The Bottle Factory Outing!”. It’s that really odd combination of being hugely enjoyable and yet deeply uncomfortable to read in places! Which is probably going to be a perfect description of being at the Isle of Wight Festival anyway! So the reading material will be a great fit!

Something To Follow……….

I use Twitter and I like it,  though to be honest I’m more of a reader than a twitterer as such. There are always variations in the quality of the tweets from people I follow, but one of them that’s consistently very engaging, funny and clever is Waterstones Oxford Street. In particular they tell stories daily in a series of three or four tweets which are often topical and always book related. For example this week one of their stories was about the invention of a book teleporter – complete with pictorial evidence of its effectiveness in transferring book matter! – it was simple, clever and dryly witty! I thoroughly recommend it. Whoever is behind it, is very entertaining!

And Something To Watch On BBC iPlayer If You Missed It…….

We’ve been watching the BBC improvisation dramas “True Love” and they are absolutely brilliant. The stories are great and the acting is brilliant. Apparently it’s also the first time improvisation drama has been screened on BBC One. If you missed it, they tell the stories of individual people in series of vignettes, which observe love in different ways and from different perspectives. In addition, there is always a link between one story and the next but they are not connected beyond that. Last night we watched the story of “Adrian” and the lead role was played by David Morrisey. I was pretty critical of him in an earlier post, as the choice to play DI Thorne in the Sky Series about one of my favourite fictional detectives – but in this he was simply magnificent! I won’t spoil it by telling any of the stories or ending – but unless you are a pretty hard-hearted individual, get ready to cry!

And that’s it. I’m off to pack my wellies and waterproofs, and a fleece like every other festival goer in the UK this weekend. But I’ll also be packing my swimming costume for that pool and spa at the end of the day! I wish I’d always done festivals this way!

“Georgie Boy Was Gay I Guess, Nothing More And Nothing Less” – Or Was He?……….What I Thought Of………. Master Georgie By Beryl Bainbridge

……….This was my first foray into the work of Beryl Bainbridge and it won’t be the last. Alas, in reviewing the book, I have to admit that I’ve only read it once – and that might be important if Beryl Bainbridge herself is right.

She once said that “most people have to read Master Georgie at least three times before they understand it”. Now the use of the phrase “most people” certainly allows a little lee-way for a first time reader of the book like me – maybe I’m the exception to the rule that Beryl Bainbridge had in mind – but somehow I doubt it! So I’m just going to have to go for writing about it after reading the book once – at least any mistakes I make or any comment I make that some might disagree with can be explained away by “what do you expect – he’s still got two more reads of the book to go!”

Master Georgie tells the story of four characters in the years leading up to and through the beginning of, the Crimean War. Georgie Hardy has two passions – becoming a surgeon and photography. He goes off to the Crimean War to offer his services as a surgeon, accompanied by Myrtle, who is his adopted sister and who is hopelessly in love with him and his brother-in-law Dr Potter, an armchair geologist and expert on the limestone of the Eastern Steppes! While in Crimea, they are joined by an acquaintance from home, Pompey Jones, who is a photographers assistant and part-time fire-eater!  Jones provides the tension in the relationships between him and the other three characters and in his effect on their relationships with one another.

In many ways this is a simple and straightforward read. It’s very short, very readable and the style seems simple – yet this is a book that really does keep you on your toes the whole way through. The story is told through the backdrop of six photographic plates which are used to set scene and context for the six parts of the story and the events are spread over the period between 1846 and 1854. The narrator changes for each of the plates and this was one of several things that gave the book a slightly odd and quirky feel to me. Along with the change of narrator, the location shifts in line with events, from 19th century Liverpool with its contrasting wealth and poverty, to the almost comic-opera Constantinople with the British Army en route to Crimea and then to different locations in Crimea itself. The use of different narrators means that as the story unfolds, you get a number of different perspectives on the same event. Sometimes this is done through the narrators perspective at the time of the event and sometimes through a character looking back in time to events in earlier chapters. The net effect is that it’s a book that’s impossible to predict despite its apparent simplicity. Nowhere is this more evident than in the description of the sexual relationship between Georgie and Pompey Jones. Myrtle’s idolised perspective sees Georgie as someone who can do no wrong. In the eyes of Jones however, their encounter was the result of Georgie’s drunken attempt to take advantage of him. Later still Georgie’s version has it that Jones was the drunk in the encounter. It leaves the reader with the feeling that you know something went on but you can’t be sure exactly what and why and therefore you pay your money and take your choice. I liked the way Beryl Bainbridge used this technique on more than one occasion to give the story several twists and turns.

The characters are similar to the narrative in appearing to be simple and straightforward on the surface but emerging as increasingly complex when seen through the eyes of others or the lens of time. What was interesting for me was that I felt I got to know the characters of Georgie, Myrtle and Dr Potter really well but the character of Pompey Jones remains somewhat hidden. It gives him a slightly detached, almost sinister feel as you read the book. As I read the book, against the backdrop of the horrific experience of the war in Crimea and the perpetual threat of death and disease which hangs over every character, I got the feeling that no matter what Jones will survive – he reminded me of the old adage about the first thing to recover after nuclear devastation will be the cockroach – for me Jones is a kind of Victorian cockroach with an in-built survival instinct!

For all that I enjoyed the book, it left me with a slightly flat feeling on finishing it. It’s really good but I wouldn’t say it was “fun” to read I guess! The writing is really clever and the characters are full and intriguing so that they draw you in to their world and to their thoughts. This is Beryl Bainbridge’s masterly description of the petty madness within Georgie’s mother, Mrs Hardy.

“There was a silence for a long minute, broken by tapping. I swivelled on my haunches, making believe I was attending to the bony head of the tiger. Mrs Hardy was stabbing at the food on her plate and giving one of her stares, eyes lachrymose with bulging misery; gravy splattered the cloth. Master Georgie had explained to me that the stare was peculiar to a malfunction of the thyroid, a gland common to us all, only in Mrs Hardy’s case it had started growing. As for her misery, why that was all due to her husband; she was a neglected wife.”

However there’s little joy in the story and the writing, though my guess – having only read the book the once of course – is that this is what Beryl Bainbridge intended. Because what it ends up doing brilliantly is giving you a glimpse into the complex emotions of characters in the midst of a horrific war and it feels like something which will affect them and society well into the future. There’s a kind of naive almost surreal innocence to the early part of the British Army’s journey to Crimea – they are accompanied by wives, children, and many of their possessions from home, as far as Constantinople! It kind of feels like a mass Sunday-School outing! But the misery and waste are lying in wait, as you know they will be. While the descriptions of war itself are very few, the description of its aftermath and consequences are laid bare. It part ridicules the stiff-upper-lip and gung-ho of the Light Brigade mentality while at the same time exposing the war as something which in the end was utterly, utterly, pointless and tragic. Aren’t they always?

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. And for what it’s worth, on that issue about the sexual relationship between Jones and Georgie, my money is on the Jones’ version. But as I’ve only read the book once I’m probably wrong!

If you are interested in other reviews of Master Georgie, or of other Beryl Bainbridge novels, the reviews compiled during Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week are being collated at Annabel’s blog Gaskella.

Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week starts today!……….

……….The week long read and reviewing of the works of Beryl Bainbridge is being hosted at Gaskella and it kicks off today. It’s a great idea and I certainly enjoyed a Muriel Spark Reading Week hosted earlier this year – so I’m looking forward to it immensley.

I’ve already started both reading and drafting reviews about a couple of Beryl Bainbridge novels, having finished Master Georgie and reached just past half way with The Bottle Factory Outing. I’m reading both of those on the dreaded / evil Kindle – and secretly enjoyed it! Both books have been really good though so perhaps that’s helped me feel slightly less guilty about giving in to the lure of the Kindle and The Dark Side!

I’ve also managed to pick up a couple of other Beryl Bainbridge novels in a couple of the really good second hand bookshops near where I live so I also have According To Queenie and An Awfully Big Adventure to look forward to either later this week or into next week.

It’s early days of course but already there is the first review, written by Annabel herself, on her Gaskella blog, which is about the very first piece of fiction written by Beryl Bainbridge, Harriet Said, published in the 1950’s. It’s a great review and well worth a read if you are at all interested in Beryl Bainbridge. As the week goes on there will definitely be more and more reviews appearing and they’ll all be collated in links available on Gaskella’s site.

I’ve got my first review drafted and hopefully I’ll finish it later today. Then as soon as I finish ‘Bottle Factory’ I’ll have the pleasure to write about it too – it’s been a pleasure to read so far!

Now I’ll get on with reading the remainder of it!

“When You Are Going Through Hell – Keep Going!”……….What I Thought Of Packing For Mars By Mary Roach…….

……….I guess the quote borrowed from Churchill in the title gives away from the outset how I felt about Packing For Mars!

It wasn’t for me. It’s not normally the kind of book I’d choose but it was the third in the series for The Readers Summer Book Club and I do think one of the great things about book clubs is that they introduce you to things you wouldn’t otherwise have read. Alas they’re not always books you are glad you found!


Packing For Mars is essentially a non- fiction book about space exploration and the whole lunar adventure – which some of the facts in the book made me re-categorise as ‘lunar lunacy’ at times!

If I’m honest, the topic of space doesn’t really do it for me either. I do remember the excitement on radio and black and white TV of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when I was a kid and I quite enjoyed Apollo 13, the film with Tom Hanks! But that’s about it for me and space!

Coupled to that lack of interest in the topic, there was a quote from The Times on the cover of Packing For Mars! It said “incredibly funny”! I should have known. The last time I read on a blurb about how hilarious a book was, came just before I wasted precious hours of my life reading Paul Torday’s awful book “Salmon Fishing In Yemen”! To be fair, while Packing For Mars was on  a humour par with Salmon Fishing – with a laughter count for both books of absolutely zero for me- the book wasn’t as dull as Salmon Fishing.

It’s crammed with info and Mary Roach’s style of writing is certainly engaging, pacy, and easily accessible. Beyond that I can’t think of any positives and I wouldn’t want to castigate the book. It was simply that I didn’t like it. However many others have loved it and if you want to read the reviews of those who did like, laugh, and love this book, there are very positive comments at Savidge Reads and there are lots of positive comments on The Readers discussion page about the book over at GoodReads.

But for me it’s been hell to get to the end.

However heel no more – from now on I’m ignoring Churchill’s exhortations to keep going! This morning in the Observer I read an article about book endings by James Bridle. In it he says

“Equally I don’t finish half the books I start; these are literary dead ends; they don’t lead anywhere else; I double back and start again.”

This is sound advice because I don’t think I did myself or Packing For Mars any favours by trudging wearily to the end of it on my hands and knees. I’ll try to remind myself of these words before I start books in the future – especially when they have quoted those fateful words of doom on the cover “Incredibly funny”!!!!!!!

“There’s Nobody Fitter At His Age………Except For Maybe Raquel Welch!”

……..This was how Ron Atkinson described the genius that was Gordon Strachan when he signed to play for Coventry in the twilight of his footballing career. But those words are more apt today than ever before, because the greatest player of all time is about to make the comeback of all comebacks – this guy hasn’t played since the 1990’s! Of course when I mention greatest player of all time most footballing aficionados would conjure up names like Messi, Best, Maradona, Pele, Cruyff, Cantona. But this is the player who tops all of them – in fact this is the player who is Messi, Best, Maradona, Pele, Cruyff and Cantona rolled into one! It is of course, Roy Race, player and then player-manager of the famous Melchester Rovers, a footballer so fantastic and so famous that he gave rise to the now oft-used cliched description of skilful football “This is real Roy Of The Rovers stuff!”

He is to my mind the greatest fictional footballer of all time (though admittedly it’s a pretty short list!)

©Egmont UK

No sooner had I written a post about the comeback of DI Rebus in the next Ian Rankin novel than I read that my all-time fiction hero Roy Of The Rovers, is to be resurrected in a new digital books series to be available on Apple.  Imagine it, a comeback even greater than that of DI Rebus. If someone now tells me they are also bringing back Alf Tupper, The Tough Of The Track, my life will be complete!

The story of Roy’s comeback was announced in a story in the Guardian a couple of days ago, which included Roy giving his backing to new England manager Roy Hodgson (I forgive Roy Race his love of England – it’s not easy but somehow I am able to see past it!) The Roy Of The Rovers comic strip is apparently due to be available soon through iBooks, and is being published by Egmont Publishing, who are specialists in children’s books.

I loved Roy Of The Rovers when I was a kid and my love for it continued well into adulthood. I’m a man who paid for copies of Roy Of The Rovers to be sent out to me when I lived in Spain!!! I am a man who got an adult sized Roy Of The Rovers strip for Christmas in his twenties – and wore it that day!!!! I’m a man who still owns Roy Of The Rovers annuals and Roy Of The Rovers Playing Histories!!!! I’m a man who was devastated when Roy announced his resignation to Richard Keys and Andy Gray live on Sky Sports (in a comic you understand!). So I for one will be signing up to follow Roy’s adventures through iBooks! Can’t wait!!!

The return of Roy Of The Rovers does make me refect on the relationship between fiction and football. It works in a comic but I’ve never really felt that it has worked in a novel – mind you I can’t say I’ve read that many! In fact, the only one I can think of that’s any good is the great “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby!

The first novel about football I ever read was a thing published donkey’s years ago called “They Used To Play On Grass!” co-written by Gordon Williams and Terry Venables. It’s really puerile nonsense about the lives and ego’s of a bunch of top foootballers – all 70’s coiffed hairstyles and with sexism reeking off every page! And look at the cover – if there’s a book that says “I’m the 1970’s so buy me!”, then this has to be it! Maybe it was so bad, it put me off for ever and so for many years I kept my two loves pretty much apart!

But then I discovered non-fiction and at last my two loves of books and football could go out together – not a ‘full on’ relationship or anything like that! But every so often, usually during the summer or at Christmas when there was an avalanche of sports biographies, they could at least meet up for a pint!

Of course for every great football biography I’ve read, there have been some stinkers – but hey for every great team like Manchester United there unfortunately has to be a down-side called Liverpool!!!!!!

So all this reminsicing about Roy Race and football biographies and non-fiction has left me wanting to write more about football! And as there is nothing more to be said about “They Used To Play On Grass” except to repeat that it’s absolutely bloody terrible, I’ll have to write in future about great football non-fiction – and I’ve plenty to choose from so I am now off to wallow for an hour or six flicking through them and deciding what to include in my “TheOnlyWayIsReading’s Great Footballing Non-Fiction List!”. Bet you can’t wait!

Till then, I leave you with this quote – for no other reason than it’s my favourite, it’s Sir Alex and it has a go at Liverpool – and what are Liverpool for if you can’t have a go at them!!!!!

“My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment. My greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool off their fucking perch! And you can print that!” Sir Alex Ferguson

P.S. I think we’ve well and truly done the job of knocking them from their perch Sir Alex!

 

Update – If you are a Roy Of The Rovers fan/aficionado and want to follow Roy’s new adventures from Egmont you can get all the info and access you need from the iTunes site here! 

What I Thought Of……….Lifeless by Mark Billingham……….

……….I thoroughly enjoyed this. I’ve read several of the DI Thorne books and they are all good in my view.

The character of Thorne is just complex enough to be really interesting without overdoing it and is very much one of my favourite literature detectives ( I don’t know any real life ones so can’t comment on how realistic a copper Thorne is – but he is believable and realistic for me as a reader!) The plot centred around London’s homeless and dispossessed is good with some cracking one-liners – there’s a particularly memorable line about McDonalds!!!!

As with other Thorne novels there are good supporting characters which are familiar like Holland and Hendricks and some equally good one off characters like Spike. As ever with these books I didn’t spot the killer at all – but that just adds to the enjoyment.

Thorne is a big Tottenham fan in the books – to date Mark Billingham’s  books for me do what i think Spurs fail to do – they are consistently good!!!! – and this one is no exception.