Monday, 28 June 2010

Book Review : Wonder Hero by J B Priestley

"The world whose antics are satirised in certain chapters of this novel is a very small one, but that does not mean there is no room for invention in it or that I have attacked, under the cover of fictitious names, actual persons, establishments, institutions. Any reader who persists in thinking that actual persons, establishments, institutions can be discovered here will be wilfully misreading my text and misunderstanding my intention."

 - J B Priestley, `Author`s Note` to Wonder Hero

So that`s clear then. Or is it ?

Published in 1933, Wonder Hero addresses itself to many of the problems of the `30s and, while it`s very different in tone from what we mean today when we talk about `satire`, it`s pretty clear that Priestley did consciously satirise one institution, that being the press. One wonders if his rather defensive note was actually intended to draw attention to that aspect of the book. 

The plot is fairly straightforward. Young Charlie Habble, a decent but uncomplicated young working class man from the northern edge of the Midlands, finds himself lionised by the press for his supposed role in preventing an explosion at his place of work. The exact part he has played in the matter is not entirely clear, and he himself makes no special claim to greatness, but soon he is whisked off to London by a national newspaper keen to boost those all-important circulation figures.

The world he now inhabits is unfamiliar to Charlie, and not entirely to his taste, but he muddles through as best he can.

At this stage the book is really quite engaging, and lollops along like a friendly labrador. Charlie is not JBP, and is not primarily a character designed to act as the author`s mouthpiece, but on  occasion he is not entirely unlike our literary Yorkshireman. 

Eventually, Charlie finds himself savouring the night-life of London. Here, although the wheels do not actually come off, they do begin to seem imperfectly aligned. The night-club acts and party guests encountered here do indeed seem superficial and affected as the author clearly intends, but the scenes seem unconvincing and a little mannered. Knowing that Priestley was not a lover of night-clubs, (he mentions this in `Outcries and Asides`) I suspect he`s basically made it up according to his own preconceptions. Worse than that, one begins to feel that Charlie (and the author ?) can be a bit of a prig, or possibly worse ( Charlie concurs heartily when another character complains that an American singer who intersperses his act with `blue` jokes is "a dirty, conceited, damned impudent, doped half-caste who ought to be back where he belongs", and broods disapprovingly on "the young men who were trying to look like girls and the girls who were trying to look like young men." ).

At this point we get a feeling that having got here, Priestley does not really know where to go next. He`s had some fun at the expense of the press and arguably had a pop at the inhabitants of that strange world south of the Trent along the way, but what happens to Charlie now ? 

What actually happens is that he encounters Lady Catterbird, an enthusiastic admirer of virile young men. Resisting her womanly whiles ( "Here I say...I`ve had enough o` this." ), he then meets her husband, who invites him to have a drink and discuss the world of the City financier, as artificial a plot development as you`re likely to encounter.

Here at least, Priestley is getting back to familiar territory. "Once you begin to work with nothing  but money, the real things seem to whither away" the man tells Charlie, "You`re only one degree removed from those poor devils in asylums who think they`re Julius Caesar or Napoleon."   

Our hero takes himself off to visit relatives. Is it me, or is it the author as well as his character that`s happy to leave London behind ?

"As the train gathered speed and went shrieking into the northern darkness, he found himself free from the heaviness that had oppressed him...he could breathe again. He was anxious, tired, but singularly lightened at heart." 

In the fictitious shipbuilding town of Slakeby, a shock is waiting for our hero, but our author is back on form ; 

"The sheds were there and a crane or two, and that was all. Everything else - finished, gone. He looked at the tall chimneys on every side. Most of them might have been so many monuments, for not a wisp of smoke was coming out of them... There was an unfamiliar glimmer of green in the empty spaces between those rows of sheds and the black mud of the river. He stared hard. That was grass. The grass was growing where they used to build ships. This wasn`t an industrial town any longer : it was a graveyard." 

Tensions within the Slakeby community are nicely captured in an exchange between Charlie`s Uncle Tom, bewildered by the turn things have taken,  and cousin Johnny, a recent convert to the Communist cause ;

Uncle Tom was rattled. "When they start doing proper jobs again, they`ll have to have proper tradesmen to do `em. And where they`re going to find `em, I don`t know. They`ll be a bit surprised wi` themselves, I`m thinking, when they want men that can use their hands properly and then can`t find `em. I know. "

Johnny shook his head. "Don`t need `em any more, father. World`s moved on since your day, don`t forget that."

"Happen it has, but where`s it moved to, answer me that ?"

If Priestley had left it at that, a decent man`s wail of bewilderment at the injustices of the Hungry Thirties, we`d be on to a winner, but he just can`t let alone. Within a few pages,  Tom is commenting that he doesn`t share his son`s views or even pretend to understand politics,  "But them that says we`re governed for the benefit of the banks seem to me to know what they`re talking about." Turn a few more pages and the local doctor, with no prompting at all, volunteers his own thoughts  ; "Try another financial system. It couldn`t be worse than this one..We`ll have grass growing in the City of London, just as we have it here in the shipyards." You begin to feel that poor Charlie daren`t so much as start a conversation for fear that every other person he meets will have some personal manifesto to share with the world !

After a few more encounters and misadventures you`ll be happy to know Charlie finds true love ; 

"At first the emotions drowned the words. Their hands, for ever coming together and then gripping hard, were more eloquent. They might have been - as indeed they felt they were - the only two real flesh-and-blood beings in a huge city of ghosts."

I`ve probably placed a little too much emphasis on the book`s shortcomings, but as I hope I`ve demonstrated, there is some very effective writing and some very real and genuine concerns and beliefs that are addressed. In true Priestley style, there are a motley collection of larger-than-life characters to encounter along the way, and in the end, the hero gets the girl. Having said that, if I had not known that our Jack was a very experienced  writer by this time, I`d have assumed this was a youthful work. I`m pretty sure I`ll read it again, and equally sure I`ll enjoy it, but it does have it`s flaws as well as it`s virtues.


For more On Priestley, you might like to visit .  Or, if you`ve not had enough of me, you can visit and read two other postings of mine ; Blasts From the Past ; J B Priestley on Democracy (29 May 2010) and JBP Gets it Right (12 April 2010).

Saturday, 26 June 2010

National Mesothelioma Day 2 July 2010

Friday 2 July 2010 is National Mesothelioma Day and for that reason, Derbyshire Asbestos Support Team and Mesothelioma UK will be staging an event at The Quad, The Market Place, Derby on that day from 10.30 am onwards.

Further details can be found in an article headed `Message Tree to Raise Awareness of the Asbestos Silent Epidemic` (9 June 2010) at  . If you can find it, the similar `Moving Messages in Memory of Victims of Asbetos-Related Cancer` appeared 24 June 2010 in the Ripley, Heanor and Alfreton Express and is more detailed.

If anyone doubts the extent of asbestos-related problems in the Derbyshire area, just visit thisisderbyshire and search under the word `asbestos` .  I did and I was astonished at the number of inquests into the deaths of industrial workers locally in the last few weeks.

Maybe I shouldn`t have been surprised, as a friend of mine was a victim relatively recently. As a result, I penned a short article, Asbestos Awareness and `Advocacy` - For Chris (19 April 2010), which can be found at and provides numerous links for further information etc.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Godfrey Cox - Will there Be Anything Else ? : The Story of a Shop : Revelations of an Alfretonian

Godfrey Cox - Will There Be Anything Else ? : The Story of a Shop : Revelations of an Alfretonian - Published by the Author - Undated

This was Mr Cox`s second book, the first being a children`s book, The Salt of the Earth. He was well known in the Alfreton area for many years both as a shopkeeper and a very religious man. During the war he served in various parts of the world, but eventually his experiences caused him to embrace the pacifist cause.

The book looks at such topics as The Hungry Thirties, War Again and Another Generation Takes Over.

More Notts/Derbys local interest in our listings - use the `Buy Books` links provided to find details.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

David Beeston - A Strange Accident of State : Henry VII and the Lambert Simnel Conspiracy

David Beeston - A Strange Accident of State : Henry VII and the Lambert Simnel Conspiracy -  Published by Author - 1987

"On June 16th, 1487, a major battle took place near the village of East Stoke in Nottinghamshire. After three hours of savage fighting, and six thousand fatalities, the forces of King Henry VII triumphed...a decisive victory which marked the end of the Wars of the Roses...
Yet, curiously, this important event and the elaborate political conspiracy which preceded it, have received little attention from either contemporary chroniclers or later generations of historians."  

David Beeston`s booklet is at 3352 in our listings. A fairly slender work, it should be relatively cheap to post. 

Feel free to use the `Buy Books` links provided to browse our full stock. Cheers.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Robin Hood`s Forest is Home to Underground Race !

Environmental watchdog/government advisory body Natural England has expressed concerns over the threat to Sherwood Forest`s ancient oaks posed by Nottinghamshire`s last operational pit, Thoresby Colliery in Edwinstowe, which is operated by UK Coal.  

A change in the law introduced in the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, which came into effect during April of this year, means that UK Coal now have to apply for planning permission for work they had already begun, which in this case  involves mining under Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) at Birklands and Bilhaugh, home of the historic Major Oak and also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI).

Natural England argue that the site, which is protected under both UK and European law, could be adversely affected by subsidence as a result of the deep mining operation. 

Voluntary group Friends of Sherwood Forest have expressed similar concerns.

UK Coal accept there are valid concerns over the trees and state "that`s why we have gone the extra mile to satisfy environmental concerns." In fairness to them, it should be pointed out that the work will be 700 metres below the surface.

Nottinghamshire County Council Planning Officers are expected to recommend approval of the plans, saying there is "no evidence" to show the effect on trees would be significant and pointing out that there are no records of damage from historical working. Surveys identify 40 trees in the area which could be affected by ground cracking, but indicate that is unlikely any would fall. It is suggested that even if some did, the number of trees affected would be below the 1% figure which Natural England would consider unacceptable.

Pretty much everything in this posting comes from the following article ;   

Jon Robinson - Ancient Oaks `Under Threat from Mining`, Nottingham Evening Post,  Tuesday 8 June 2010 . Mr Robinson`s article also appears at under the revised  heading Watchdog Warns Mine May Damage Sherwood`s Ancient Oaks.

My account is quite heavily shortened and paraphrased. For a fuller account of the controversy, you may wish to see the original, or of course visit the websites of the various bodies concerned. 


Although not connected with the Sherwood Forest controversy, another interesting article in the same issue of the Evening Post is ; 

Paul Wilson -  Growing More Food Has To Become Our Number One Priority, which also appears on the thisisnottingham site under a changed header,  Dr Paul Wilson on Climate Change. Wilson`s article in many ways echoes Tony Stace`s What Use is the Green Belt which you will find at .

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Music Review - Nottingham City Pulse Festival - Monday - Cliff Bennett and others

Day Three of  the City Pulse festival and back to the city of my birth to savour once more the delights on offer.

The first band we saw were the Fab 4, a Nottingham-based Beatles tribute band. A friend of mine believes that anyone "who has anything musical about them" eventually gravitates towards a) jazz and b) The Beatles. In my experience, this is true. They opened with an astonishingly authentic-sounding Please Please Me, a wise choice of opener I thought. It is difficult to review a band whose sole aim is to sound like another band. Clearly they are more than competent, though for my money they were less convincing on the rock `n` roll numbers and on Sgt Pepper. I suspect this is not their `home ground`, an impression re-inforced when I Saw Her Standing There was introduced with the words "this is a a rock `n` roll song", which it plainly isn`t. On the plus side, they were at their best, to me anyway, on Here Comes the Sun and Paperback Writer. I can imagine them doing well as function-based musicians, I could see them making good money (and making people happy)   at corporate events, weddings and the like. They are playing Arnot Hill Park, Arnold, Notts on June 20 as part of the Arnold Festival so if you`re nearby, there`s your chance to see them.

Next up was a slightly odd arrangement whereby a band calling themselves The New Amen Corner backed a number of different singers. All I know about `60s band Amen Corner is that they took their name (presumably) from a James Baldwin play and I believe they went through many changes, with a mixed back catalogue ranging from sixties pop to grittier blues/soul-influenced numbers. 

First singer to appear was Cliff Bennett, formerly of the Rebel Rousers, a big man with a big, powerful voice. At first he appeared to have some difficulty with his voice but persevered and delivered an awe-inspiring mix of soul numbers and his own back-catalogue. If you like the Blues Brothers (or of course, Cliff Bennett), you`ll like him. I`d certainly see him again. Credit is also due to the band, who backed him brilliantly.

Bennett departing, Steve Ellis, ex- of the Love Affair, took his place in front of the band to provide a rather gentler, more lyrical take on `60s pop and soul. His voice is remarkably well-preserved and, although he was pretty much an unknown quantity to me, he won me over. He had a solo album released last year, which you may wish to look out for.

After a short break, the band returned, this time fronted by Chip Hawkes, formerly of The Tremeloes and father of Chesney Hawkes. I`ve seen him before, as a member of  the band Class of `64, which featured ex-Kink Mick Avory on drums. I`ve also seen footage of him belting out old `60s rockers like You Really Got Me on stage in Europe and was surprised how convincing he can be with that sort of material. That side of his nature was not really in evidence this time, as he opted for a more singalong approach. In truth, it wasn`t really my cup of tea, though something of his capabilities was on display with a version of The Tremeloes sardonic Suddenly You Love Me.  Silence is Golden displayed his and the bands vocal  harmony talents, but they really should rethink the high notes. Still, a difficult song well-performed and well-received by the crowd. Chip played only a few numbers and I would think he`d have been wiser to play for longer and demonstrate more of his undoubted capabilities.

As Chip took his leave, the New Amen Corner`s rhythm guitarist took over vocal duties for a mix of Amen Corner pop numbers and other `60s numbers such as Are You Going to San Francisco. He`d already shown some promise in the backing vocals he provided for the others, and certainly he performed well given the chance to shine in his own right. I would say a big problem for the New Amen Corner will be their sheer facelessness. A convincing backing band for Cliff Bennett and more than capable when backing Steve Ellis and Chip Hawkes, left to themselves they are just another `60s covers band. A top-class `60s covers band for sure, but lacking anything distinctive of their own. Still, if that`s what they want to do, I`m sure they can do well at it.

See my earlier posting for an account of Day Two. I wasn`t free for the first day, though I quite fancied a bit of rock `n` roll. I would have liked to have checked out some of the more jazz and swing-orientated acts but the practicalities were against that. I`d like to think that the event will go ahead next year, though I would guess the recession will mean there won`t be quite so many different types of music on display. To me, half the fun of it lies in seeing bands I`d never normally see, and in that respect, it`s been `mission accomplished`.

David Haslam - Nottinghamshire Tales of Mystery and Murder - Countryside Books , 2002 - Book Number 3247

Fascinated by senseless slayings ? Fond of maniacal murderers ? Interested in the history of Nottingham ? Less well known than Steve Jones` Nottingham the Sinister Side, David Haslam`s Nottinghamshire Tales of Mystery and Murder provides you with a sumptuous repast of senseless slaughter including  an explosion, a poignant story, a curious death, a police raid, more than one brutal murder, a couple of ghosts and some mysterious carvings.
 Happy reading !


As ever, use the `Buy Books` links provided for full details - NTOMM is at 3247 in our listings, whilst `Sinister Side` is at 2309.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Music Review - Nottingham City Pulse Festival - Sunday - Dr Feelgood and Others

Nottingham City Pulse describes itself as "Nottingham`s feast of free outdoor music". Here are a few of my recollections of this year`s event. Since I no longer live in Nottingham and have work and family commitments, obviously I`ve only really scratched the surface of the music on offer, but for what it`s worth, these are the bits I caught ;

The first band we planned to see was Dr Feelgood. Arriving early, we caught the tail end of a lunchtime set by Paul Lamb and the King Snakes, a band I`ve seen before, albeit some years ago now. This looked like a different line-up, but as much as I could tell from the songs we caught, very much the same sort of thing - a blues/rock `n` roll band lead by harmonica player Paul, heavily influenced by the Sun Records sound of the `50s.

Once their set ended, we walked down to St Peter`s Square to catch the end of a set by local lads Wholesome Fish. I assume they would be classed as folk music, which is not a specialist area for me, but I`d happily see them again, and indeed would pay good money to do so. Good-natured,  lively and tuneful are the adjectives that spring to mind. Fortunately they were scheduled to play again later, so that was another chance to catch them.

Dr Feelgood are a very well-established band that traces it`s ancestry back to the `70s and are noted for their hard-edged, blues-influenced `pub rock`. None of the current line-up are founder members, but all have years, if not decades, with a band that`s seen it`s share of troubles.

 They opened their set with a version of Muddy Waters` Hoochie Coochie Man that was all but unrecognisable to me, despite being very familiar with the song, which was written by the great Willie Dixon if I recall correctly. The initial few songs were taken at a brisk pace with the trademark Feelgood intensity  and, while I like what they do, I was beginning to wonder if  it wouldn`t all begin to seem a bit relentless and overpowering. Right on cue, they changed tack and threw in a fairly lengthy slow blues.

This set the pattern for the whole set, and while they lack subtlety, they balance their rather driven approach to blues-rock with a good feel for a slower number . Singer Robert Kane had obviously copied the moves of some of the singers who were around when I was young, notably Johnny Rotten, but he is a compelling performer and a charismatic focal point for the band. The high point for me was guitarist Steve Walwyn*`s solo spot, his version of  Rolling and Tumbling by Muddy Waters.

 If I wanted to be a purist I would say their music is blues without any sense of swing and very much removed from it`s origins. However, my feeling is that with a band like this you take them on their own terms or you leave them alone altogether. At home if I listen to blues it`s usually early rural blues or jazz/blues, but frankly I loved the Feelgoods, as did the very enthusiastic crowd. 

A final section made up of `50s rock `n` roll covers - interspersed, oddly enough with extracts from the novelty tune Tequila -  finished the show on just the right note. 

After that it was back to St Peter`s Square to catch the end of Wholesome Fish`s second set  - just as enjoyable as they were earlier - and then back up to the Market Square to see Imelda May.

I know little about Imelda and had been told to expect a mix of rockabilly and ballads. That would have been great, but as it happened ballads were noticeable by their absence. What we got was really a mix of rockabilly and related styles, drawing heavily on blues and rock `n` roll. To me, it`s great that such a young singer - she looks about 24 - has immersed herself so deeply in that sort of music and come out sounding authentic whilst not sounding like a `50s revival act. Her eclectic choice of covers helped (The Yardbird`s Train Kept a Rolling and a rockabilly version of Tainted Love - I`m not making this up ! - rubbed shoulders with tributes to Howling Wolf and Bo Diddley). I was very taken with one song, which was apparently written by guitarist, Darryl or Darren, who played exceptionally well at times. If I had any reservations, I`d say they didn`t always seem to gel together as a band as much as they might, and at the start I thought Imelda herself seemed a touch stiff and self-conscious. However, given her age and the size of the crowd, that`s only human and I would expect great things from this girl.


* Dr Feelgood guitarist Steve Walwyn has a child that has Downs Syndrome and, since he numbers cycling amongst his leisure activities, raises money for one of the Down`s Syndrome charities by doing sponsored cycle rides - one from Land`s End to John o` Groats and another across Spain. Details can be found in the Archives section of  the Feelgoods web site, and that includes a link to the charity he supports. He also has a couple of occasional bands with musician friends under a variety of group names - The GBs, The Steve Walwyn Band and The Rogues are names they`ve used so far.