Monthly Archives: November 2015

10 Favourite Books – part 19 – Honourable Mentions

Dear readers,

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

image

Ernest Hemingway. I’ve never really decided how much I like him. Before reading this, I read An Old Man at Sea, A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises. The former two were interesting, the latter was not. Ernest Hemingway was a great self-promoter and fancied himself a bit, people say. His writing style was certainly very unique and you could tell a million miles away it was a Hemingway novel, with short choppy prose with matter of fact sentences. The problem is, I don’t know how much I like it. Even when people call it journalistic, it just doesn’t grab me. His characters impose themselves on you, and you don’t know if this is Hemingway’s own ego wearing you down or a poor attempt at character building. The men are macho, the women a bit feeble, in my opinion. All the characters seem a bit contrived and unreal. And what’s more, I can’t remember not one single character’s name. Not one. Just through going on Wikipedia, I had to remind myself that the protagonist’s name in For Whom the Bell Tolls is Robert Jordan. That tells you how rememberable the characters are. In my book, if you remember the character’s name, it’s been well written. Simple.

I read For Whom the Bell Tolls while working in Catalonia on a campsite in 2005. During my days off I would always be popping off on road trips on my tod visiting locations and museums to do with the Spanish Civil War. The book was set in Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range, but I know Hemingway, as well as George Orwell more famously maybe, spent time in Catalonia  fighting Franco’s facists with the International Brigades. It seems strange to be criticising so much and then name it one of my favourites. There’s a lot of hype about the book (as well as scolding criticism), some of which is fair, especially regarding the horrors of war. His writing style kind of sums up the reality of death; flat, numb and final. Looking at it that way, it was well-written. I enjoyed following the plot and was held in suspense. I guess I was caught up in the moment of being in Catalonia reading a book about a war that resulted in Catalan culture being repressed and the language and flag being banned from the late 1930s to the 1970s.

I remember the day I finished reading the novel on a random quiet beach on the Costa Brava. Despite my love of books, I don’t always take great care of them and my copy was scarred with dog-ears, the spine fractured in several places and the pages sticky from a Coca-Cola spill. I doubted anyone else would care to read such a beaten up book so I decided to give it its very own heroic farewell by lancing it stupidly into the warm waves, where it swiftly turned to pulp and polluted the sea. Unfortunately my act of polluting was spotted by the police and they made me a proposition to go in after the book or receive a fine and a day in court. I of course chose the former and I went in redder faced than I was a few moments before (I was sporting a very British scolding sun-burn) fetching the pulp with bathers looking on at this disrespectful guiri with disgust.

I’ve not pulled a stunt like this since. Needless to say, I learned my lesson.

For some years later, I felt that this was one of my favourite books, but as time goes by and I read more, For Whom the Bell Tolls as dropped down the pecking order. For this reason, it is now just an honourable mention.

Advertisements

10 Favourite Books – part 18 – Honourable Mentions

Dear readers,

Letter from America by Alistair Cooke

image

I’ve written about this book tons and tons of times. I won’t expand loads on to it (that’s a shameless lie and you know it). It’s a better time than any to write about this book considering it’s Thanksgiving. Whether you’re an Americanophile or a critic, this is a dream of a book, which charts back through some of America’s greatest events in the last century through his newspaper columns or BBC Radio Shows which he kept up to the day of his death. He possessed a talent for commenting on the charms of living in the America, whether it be the change of seasons or the growing aggressive aspirations of the American people going about their way of realising their own American dream, which could make them come across as charmingly threatening rather than ignorant and naive, as they are sometimes portrayed in the mass world media, largely thanks to Fox News. This element gave me more empathy for Americans, rather than the classic patronising and snobbish British sympathy which I admittedly may have had before and sometimes still possess. American life is hard if you’ve not got money. It can be anywhere, you might argue, but the mentality to succeed in the intense capitalist culture can come across as very cut throat, and if you’re not strong enough, you can cascade into the abyss. It seems that this is what the society is built upon, to an extent, and the American Dream is a practiced concept that’s crept throughout the world, mainly due to globalisation, and whether we like it or not, we all have a bit of that aspiring American Dream, while maybe not being openly patrotic about it. It’s a culture where it appears anyone can make it if they put the effort in and less based on brains (look at Donald Trump). It’s funny how we poke fun at the yanks, but there is a bit part of us who have this obsession about their culture. Musicians and movie stars from all over the globe go there to break it, still today. They are the kings at branding and their competitiveness is admirable as well as sometimes annoying. This is one hell of a money hurricane culture.

I liked that Cooke enabled you to grasp the atmosphere by not telling you himself, but through the thoughts and opinions of friends, big and small, and everyday Americans. This was the age before social media, where opinions dicatated to you by the powerful elite (in many cases, they still are) and it was far more difficult to speak up in the mass media. Cooke would offer soft ancedotes and a subtle humour, with each letter ending on a poignant note. He talks about the downtrodden working classes and ethnic minorities and also mixes with the elite, giving you a very full view from a British (a Limey to some) and intelligent perspective. Suffice to say, I admire his style very much so.

Yes, this book made me think differently about that strange land of opportunity sitting just a couple of thousand miles north of Honduras, the real centre of the world. The reason it’s not on my top ten list is because reading letter after letter can be a drag, which didn’t always make it an enjoyable read. Then again, it enables one to dip in and out when they like. A firm recommendation to anyone interested about the US of A.


Positivity

Dear readers,

Sorry I’ve not written in a while. Unfortunately I was made redundant from my job at Laureate International Universities last week and I’ve now a full-time occupation of finding a new job. A métier in a similar area I hope, but I guess many are looking for that perfect role. Disappointed, maybe, but postive and confident that another will come soon. More doors open if one composes themself with a driven attitude, which I have always tried to adopt. Now it’s more of time of not just trying to adopt but a need to have. One thing I’ve learned is not the unfortunate event itself, but how you react to it. I look back at times when I’ve stalled way too much in the face at what I thought was a disaster at the time. My wife and I pledged that we will not complain or moan and I shall move on and find something new. I wish not to wander in the state of procrastination. It’s very easy to do; think of all the wonderous things we might achieve if it weren’t for this destructive way of being, a downward spiral which isn’t always easy to climb back out of. I remember a Charles Dickens character in David Copperfield quoting the following:

image

It also ends with “collar him”, but I guess the illustrator who plagiarized this quote did not have enough space to Photoshop it on to the image due to the rather beautifully dangling vintage pocket watch. By the way, I was tinkering with including David Copperfield on this list of favourite books but I’ve yet to finish reading it (I started over two years ago, and as much as I like it, the slog doesn’t always make it enjoyable reading. I imagine most who have read a Dickens novel have felt the same).

Whether it’s the will or a test from God, the decision of a man or woman in a suit or just the torrid churning out of a recession, anger or misery solves nothing. One should try to see redundancy as an opportunity (if you can). It’s not easy. But moving on with a positive attitude will enable you to succeed, and I believe God favours the brave. To show that I bare no hard feelings, click on this link to see the online magazine that I co-managed in my role: Laureate Connect.

The day after I was made redundant, I made rambling vBlog on YouTube. It’s the first I’ve ever done. It made me extremely self-conscious. I created it to assist others who have been made redundant try to be more positivity, hoping my own postivity can be conducive to people who are struggling to deal with it. My situation is not as hard-hitting as it is for others. To gain confidence is a long process for many, but to be knocked down is quick and painful, so I propose that one should just see it as a hurdle on the road to success, and don’t stop running.
Here’s a link to the video (I’ve just seen that it’s had no views. Hahaha. Please forward it to people who you think could do with it).

As stated in a previous blog post, I have been reading a Maya Angelou, mainly due to the fact that my chosen 10 favourite books were written by white men and I felt the need to branch out somewhat. Maya seemed just the key. I have since finished reading “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and I enjoyed it but I wouldn’t say it was a favourite. There were parts where I didn’t feel that into it or identified with her. I remember when she died and I wrote something about her on my blog, and a blog that lives with me today. I guess it’s just a little message from God, at a time in my life when I really need it, the way he often does.

image


10 Favourite Books – part 17 – Honourable Mentions

Dear readers,

Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain by Robert Winder

image

Paul Gascoigne: arguably one of England’s most naturally gifted football players in his day (to many: a wasted talent). The tabloids often published his controversies, from alcoholism, domestic violence, bankruptcy and his sometimes yobbish, sometimes xenophobic, childish behaviour. In his prime he was depicted as something of a working class hero lighting up the world stage with his Zidane like skills, and his passionate tears after realizing he’d miss the 1990 World Cup Final if England beat West Germany in the semi-finals when picking up a yellow card. These same tabloids have labelled many countries, the French for example, many insulting, racist names. It then becomes very ironic that Paul Gascoigne, this typical Englishman (or a man who depicts one of the many stereotypes that is an Englishman) and national hero, carried a very French name on the back his shirt. And this is what the book is all about: the many ironies and inaccurcies about the impact of foreigners in Britain, and how no one, truly no one, can call themselves a typical Englishman. Many different aspects of our culture is owed to others around the world. And that’s what I love about it: it’s a cauldron of flavours.

I read the book while working at the Refugee Council. It of course held much relevance for me then. I am now a bloody foreigner in Honduras, and apart from being called a gringo every now and then, and being ripped off by taxis based on my blond hair and blue eyes from time to time, I feel very welcome here. Being a foreigner here sometimes feels like having an elite status as I know that I can get away with things that Hondurans cannot, especially if I were to throw my weight around, which is an embarrassing shame and not something I exploit. In my life, I’ve always embraced foreigners and had a special interest in different cultures. They offer and education, a different perspective of life, which is what this book is also all about; offering an educational and accurate perspective of foreigners in the UK, so often tainted by the press.

I am not a fan of the noun foreigner. It’s not healthy. Take the name of the book. It’s been given a negative undertone, when in reality no human should be labelled a foreigner. Go up to space and look back at Earth, and you’ll see no lines or frontiers. These are man-made creations that have caused wars, racism, class systems, leaving millions dead and many more homeless and stateless. We are all humans and it should be our free right to roam where we like, whether to gain in another country or escape a problem in our own. The word foreigner should be used for culture and seen as something positive, someone from the outside learning about a new society. We should be able to embrace a culture, not be ignored from it based on our country of birth or economic status. Countries are now big tribes and the world elite have now caused what seems like irreversible isssue where nations are manipulated to believe in patronism to a flag and protect economic systems and jobs are more important than a person escaping war, persecution or poverty. No one escapes a country to take an state benefit. They would rather live in peace with their country with their family, back to basics so to speak. The most needy get batoned and blamed by the press and politicians (“swarms of migrants” said the British Prime Minister, David Cameron (a closet racist, I believe)) for unemployment and terrorism; while an affluent foreigner gets welcomed with open arms, especially if there is oil, arms deals and nuclear power stations at stake. I don’t know if it’s a human flaw or the evils of politics, but we have seen it with the Syrian crisis, and it’s a sad reality.

I have strayed somewhat from the book. It looks at immigration into Britain since 1066 (I think, although it’s been a while since I’ve read it) and the different waves of people to grace the country (not to forget the Romans, Vikings, Saxons and Celts before) from the Normans, Huguenots, the earliest black slaves, Russian, German and Polish Jews, sailors, skip a few generations to the Rivers of Blood speeches, Pakistani and Indian and West Indians and Eastern Europeans and the dubious tag, “asylum seeker”, and about the successes and abuses (of British to foreigners). We can thank fish and chips to Portuguese sailors, Polish soldiers in the Battle of Britain and the Jews for Marks & Spencers. Yet foreigners still get the blame. 

When I see someone discriminating (and other forms of discrimination, mind) another because of their place of origin, it fires me with anger. Some say it’s ignorance but that’s no excuse. As Maya Angelou notes, “We should show intolerance to ignorance, but understand illiteracy.” Xenophobes and Britain First and UKIP voters should read this and value what foreigners have given to Britain. We are all essentially foreign.

This book didn’t appear in my favourites list just due to the fact that I prefer fiction that little bit more. Maybe reality is some times that little bit more depressing.


10 Favourite Books – part 16 – Honourable Mentions

Dear readers,

Futebol by Alex Bellos

image

When I was young, I used to love football annuals. Shoot was a dream, because a large amount of it was filled with Liverpool players, my team at the time. Overtime, I became a bit skeptical of footballers autobiographies. I found them full of gossip than I did inspiring. The last one I read was Diego Maradona’s and by the end I was a little bored. Garrincha, I liked, because it was more about him than his ego’ed opinions. But back to the football, I have read books about Spanish football, Celtic, and non-league football, all of them have interesting facts and figures.

This, though, turned a corner. Futebol. The Brazilian Way of Life. Now you have to understand that this review will not give you a concise view on the writer’s style of writing, because I read this book while on vacation in Brazil. You have to understand how much of a football nut I am. For the whole time there, I was walking in a very happy yellow, green and blue mist. This was my element. Reading this and visiting the Maracana twice (before it was knocked down and pimped back up into another non-descript stadium, when it had character and was circular with a public telephone box behind the goal at both ends of the pitch, although admittedly, looking a bit sorry for itself) to watch Flamengo (Brazil’s Manchester United) lose 2-0 to a team I’ve forgotten (I saw a fan kick off a seat with his bare feet in front of apprehensive armed policemen) and Fluminese lose to Sao Paulo 3-1 with Kaka wowing in his last couple of games before he set off to AC Milan, and the once amazing Romario missed two penalties, sent me gaga.

I was travelling with my brother and his former partner and the poor souls had to listen to me quote facts at Brazilian football, such as car football, football tournaments that run alongside beauty queen contests in the Amazon (where a team can lose all their games and finish bottom of their group, but still win the cup if they have a beauty representing them), Garrincha, the world cup final disaster against Uruguay back in 1950, the extent of the inquests of the 3-0 loss to France in the 1998 world cup, and corruption. At first they enjoyed my pointless trivia, but towards the end, and in hindsight, I can see how close I was to death when I enforced them translate using their limited Spanish (I didn’t speak Spanish at the time. Also we spoke very limited Portuguese. I myself knew the word obrigado, meaning thank you, and literally nothing more) the information I was so desperate to impart and get a random Brazilian’s view on it, such as whether they really do love Garrincha more than Pele, and whether Flamengo really is the “team of the people”. I was tackling busy waiters on these issues, and on one evening in Morro de Sao Paulo, I was being chatted up by a stunning big-boobed lady with a superior posterior lady using the best English she could muster, and all I wanted to know was whether she thought Ronaldinho would be a success at Barcelona and how she celebrated Brazil’s world cup win the year before in 2002. I then went off to play football in the nightclub with a deflated football with a bunch of locals, and I didn’t care how much of a fool I looked as they nutmegged five times and bellowed olé. When I say locals, these were actually 10 year old kids. I looked as out of place as the English national team did at last year’s world cup which, ironically, was held in Brazil. This book made me bonkers. Luckily for my brother, while in Morro de Sao Paulo, some paradise beaches accessed only by boat near Salvador de Bahia, we met an Italian who worked for the Inter Milan television channel who shared a similar passion for Brazilian football and oh so happy to take in my hours and hours of what we both thought was vital information.

I went home with this book which was nearly pulp (I unsuccessfully tried to read it while lazing in the sea), a hammock and three football shirts, being the Brazilian national team, Flamengo and Fluminese. I still have them. The book does hold a lot more importance than I first thought though. I read this in 2003. While trying to impart all this information to Brazilians who glared back at me like I were a crazy gringo, I felt frustration, muted, unable to communicate all my thoughts and integrate in the way I wanted. This made me forever more determined to learn a different language (I learned French at school for a mandatory reasons, but the classes were as good as my French at the end of five years: shite, and I was interested in the language too) As soon as I arrived at university to study journalism, I enrolled in a Spanish elective (I know they speak Portuguese in Brazil, but Spanish is more widely spoken). If it hadn’t been for this book, I might not have come to Honduras, and be sat here, now, writing this blog in this beautiful cafe called El Hogar, sipping in a coffee, married to Pamela, and be happy and content with life. In my favourites list, many are classics which are written with class and distinction, and remembered by the masses for the aforementioned reasons. Without wanting to downgrade this book, it won’t be remembered because it was amazingly written. It did change my life though, and this is why it is an important book to me.


10 Favourite Books – part 15 – Honourable Mentions

Dear readers,

The Timewaster Letters by Robin Cooper

image

image

These books are by no mean great literature feats, nor will they be remembered that way. They are, however, two of the funniest yet absurd books I’ve ever read. I picked them up in Fopp, Solihull, after Stuart Harbourne, a great friend of mine, recommended them. Stuart’s quite a comedian so I knew they’d be funny, but I didn’t realise to what extent. I’ve since bought them as gifts for other friends, which leaves them in stitches in turn.

They are pretty much what the titles suggest; timewasters letters, but the creativity pouring out of them tickles intensively. Robin writes to random organisations and famous people with bizarre and impossible requests and information with a wit and sarcasm that can’t stop you chuckling. One in particular I remember to Tony Blair while he was Prime Minister was a proposal to job-share including drawings and full explanations about how they can carry it out. Yet, many people write back with genuine responses, or at least half genuine responses, and it becomes a stream of letters, like those below:

image

image

image

They are pretty much brain fodder, but I do recommend them. They’re not on my favourites list because they only fulfil the entertainment value for me personally. I enjoyed them immensely nonetheless.

Little Infamies by Panos Karnezis

image

I picked up a proof copy of this while working at Books Etc and I found it a treasure; my own little treasure which I wish I could have included in my top 10 favourites and I don’t know why I didn’t. I’ve mentioned this before, that I sometimes like to keep hidden gems like this to myself; a writer or book, like a selfish fancy that I share with no one, like chocolate or Yorkshire Puddings. So announcing my admiration for this writer, Panos Karnezis, is all very counter-productive to my chief aim. A Greek who came to the UK but writes about his homeland, and why not? Economics aside, he’s from a scenically, culturally, historically fascinating country. The book, a series of short stories linked together by corrupt little characters, inspired me to write the novel I’m presently finishing. In fact, the scenery and characters in this book remind me of Honduras a lot, humble but somewhat cunning and furiously mischievous, a sin up the sleeve, so to speak. It also reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Hundred Years of Solitude” without all the silly Hocus Pocus magic realism. Something about the humdrum town falling to despair with odd vagabond weiving in and out of the plots. There is also a poetic flow to his work, the flavour of the description which is strong and to the point, like a shot ouzo and as mouthful as a stifaldo, yet not as exhaustive.

I remember reading this on the No. 1 bus route in Birmingham to and from college via Moseley one spring knowing that a couple of months later I’d be going to Stegna, a refined little village on the stunning Greek island of Rhodes with the Glasgow contingent of the family, and it all felt very romantic and exciting, a build up to a sweet Mediterranean enigma. My Glasgow family now have a house on the Greek island Kefalonia; my wife insists it will be a future holiday destination. Hopefully we can go without the infamies that happen in Little Infamies.

The Unfinished Novel by Valerie Martin

image

Wow. I know what you’re thinking. At last a female author. Embarrassing really, because I do read many books by women writers. I’ve read Alice Walker, Isabel Allende, Enid Blyton, and fabulous various human rights books on refugees written by women. I’m currently enjoying Maya Angelou. I plan to read Laura Restrapo, Margaret Attwood, Anaïs Ninn, Jane Austin and Clarice Lispector. This book, though, holds resonance with me in the same way that Alberto Moravia’s short stories does. They’re poignant and stab you in the heart with a twist you never foresaw which makes you think over and over and over. The feminine touch is there in the description, but how she climbs in the head of a sensitive married man in the first story I found as staggering as Roddy Doyle’s reaching into the mind of the alcoholic and domestic violence victim, Paula Spencer. She has inspired me in some her stories to write with a less crass approach, a more controlled manner, emotionally secure but still profoundly sensitive. She is also an author I keep to myself and I share with no one. Here I release my admiration for yet another lesser known writer, Valerie Martin. I discovered her by simply reading the synopsis of this book in a now closed bookshop in the Pallasades in Birmingham that was flogging books for a quid a piece. I love finding books that way, and this is yet another book that was so, so close to being in my top 10 favourites. Why it didn’t? I just preferred others more.


10 Favourite Books – part 14 – Honourable Mentions

Dear readers,

The following children’s books are other mentions that didn’t make it on to my favourites list, but were nonetheless important and I found inspiring for one reason or other.

The BFG by Roald Dahl

image

I’ve read loads of Roald Dahl. Pretty much all British kids have. Kids everywhere have. All corners of the world. It’s because they were so transferrable through cultures. The imagination is awe inspiring, and kids love the characters. You can only imagine that Roald Dahl, like Lewis Carroll, might have been smoking some pretty intriguing substances to come out with what did. Even now when JK Rowling has pretty much taken the crown of most famous British children’s writer, and the launch of the Wimpy Kid, Roald Dahl’s books are timeless and children will forever love them. Ella, my niece, for instance, has the whole collection. Their popularity has brought about many movies, much because Hollywood producers find the books out of this world, so vivid with imagination, and knew the movies would sell as well as the books; like hot cakes. Dahl was a conveyor belt, as well, coming out with a constant stream of classics, whether it be James & the Giant Peach, Danny the Champion of the World, Matilda, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and many more, but it was the BFG that did for me. The nicer side of my personality always roots for the underdog and a gentleman, which the BFG is, and made a hero for millions of more kids like me. An unlikely hero, but the BFG has always inspired me to look at the best in people, despite their difficulties or lack of education, and not to tease or patronise people because of that (maybe as a teenager I didn’t always practice as I then preached, but many teenagers for that insecure period of their lives lose the inner BFG in them). Education can’t buy class after all; look at David Cameron. Like the BFG, I had problems with speech, due to thyroid problems and a lazy tongue, which obviously made me a lamb in a slaughterhouse with peers at school. The BFG acted as a role model, giving me the belief that positivity can still thrive in front a personal difficulty. That’s how important literature can be; it create heroes for many.

I’ve revisted this book twice since childhood. The first in my A-levels when I compared it to Alice in Wonderland, such as cultural values of the time and the style of writing. However, my comparison is more blunt than that; Alice in Wonderland was absurd nonsense while the BFG was absurd brilliance. Sorry Alice in Wonderland fans.

The second time was when I was working at Dowal School and I was giving extra classes to twins from the US. They were exceptionally talented readers for their age and you had to be on the ball, or they would catch you out. They were very competitive with each other too, and had to read the same book and do exactly the same activities, checking up on one another by asking me questions, “How fast did HE read that book?” and “Did I get a better grade than HIM?” We created medicines and sub-plots; all very interesting. The twins also loved the BFG, and before they left to go back to the USA, they confessed that the BFG was the favourite book they’d read with me, which came above some pretty fierce competition, including Treasure Island and The Little Prince.

I read there is a second movie coming out based on the book next year. I can’t wait to see it.

The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

image

To be on my favourites list would have been a bit far-fetched because I read it many years ago and I can’t really remember it that well. For that reason alone it can’t be warranted to go into my favourites list. I recall it’s set in WW2 and it’s about three Polish Jewish children (I can’t be sure they are Jewish). Their parents are sent to extermination camps or prison, and kids escape and get winde of where they are. They travel high and wide on foot throughout Europe in search of them narrowly dodging Nazi guards. I can’t remember the importance of the sword or what happens to the parents, nor do I know much about the author. However, I do remember enjoying it and it sparked more reading about WW2, which became a great interest in my young teenaged years, such as the below book, and learned a lot about basic plot interwining plot structures too. I also remember my mother gave it me and it still sits on my bookshelf back in Brum.

The Machine-Gunners by Robert Westall

image

Back at Hall Green Secondary School, we had touched on the book with Mr. Fenwick in year 7 and then again by one of the world’s worst teachers in year 9 (a book for 7th graders). The patronising Ms. B, who could not understand humour nor adolesence if it slapped her in the face, and it often did, was th. Even though the book in set in the North East of England, it awoke a local interest in the Birmingham’s role in the Blitz. It was a huge arms manufacturer during the war, a specialist in the Hurricane or Spitfire planes, which were always outstripped in numbers by the Germans, but not in being an effective, mobile fighter plane, winning many-a-dogfight. Brummies also feel that the destruction and brave resiliance of city is often understated. My folks told me that bombs dropped very close to our house, and the corner house on our road was flattened.

Back to the book though, it is about a group of kds who find a crash-landed German fighter pilot and take his machine gun, while keeping him prisoner. I was in awe of the power of the gun, the closeness of Britain being invaded by Germany, but also learning about the fear of the enemy, the stereotypes of all Germans being blood-thirsty Nazis, was false, with the German soldier being quite a nice bloke. It doesn’t seem signficant now, but to a 13 or 14 year old whose world is that black and white in the good vs evil narrative, it was quite a shock to the system.

What at the time seemed strange for Ms. B, she gave the class an activity to write whatever we pleased about the Machine-Gunners, whether it be a story subplot or review or whatever. I personally think she was winging it, but we should have known better and realised that it was a trap. I wrote a story which was kind of like The Machine-Gunners, about a young refugee from German named Budweiser (inspired by what my brother probably now regrettably claimed that Budweiser was his favourite beer. He was 17 at the time, but I thought it was a great name for a German boy at the time) who arrives at Hall Green School during the Blitz. Of course, the other kids give him a hard time, but after a while he settles in thanks to good BFG-like- self. I freely admit that the plot got a bit out of hand, especially when the two of us get a bit continental start giving the girls who I fancied at the time “Frenchies”. To not confuse people from other parts of the world where a Frenchy is actually oral sex, or more crudely, a blow-job, a Frenchy in the UK at the time was actually a kiss with lots of tongues, commonly and less sophistically known as a snog. Well, Mrs. B didn’t like it and gave it an E based on content, rather than quality of writing. Classmates thought it was great. I thought it was unprofessional of her to set a trap like that. But there you go. In another activity, a classmate was given a bollocking because he wrote a story about setting a chainsaw upon his bitchy arse English teacher. The story struck a chord with the class and everyone applauded him for his imagery, balls and content to write a piece that even Stephen King would be proud of. Needless to say, he got a telling off and a very low grade, but it all came from her hurt pride. In hindsight, she really should really have showed it to a psychologist to get the evidentally unstable kid help, but she no doubt realised she would have been asked questions why he would feel that way, so she did what she did to all students and made him feel inferior. An awful, awful teacher.

I’ve read books that I’ve enjoyed more, but it could have been in my favourite ten if the teacher who taught us hadn’t been such a patronising monster. It definitely deserves a mention, and not to forget a read (if Mrs. B has put you off).