Category Archives: Literature

Victor Comic and me (3)

I would be the first to admit that Victor could sound a little clichéd on occasion:

But the British always overcame every problem. Only two British guns and 132 German tanks. Don’t worry! We’ll get ’em all! And make sure you don’t miss any!!

Tank recognition classes can now put their knowledge into practice. The men who drew these tanks had probably seen them for real:Disaster strikes. But the British are used to recovering from disaster and muddling through. Norway. Dunkirk. HMS Hood. Greece. Malaya. Singapore. Tobruk. Countless cricket matches against Australia. Penalty shoot outs in football. God knows, we’ve had the practice:Let’s be honest. A great many of the comic’s drawings  have something hackneyed, or even ridiculous, hiding away inside them. Not to mention exaggeration. Whoever saw a hole in a ship that big?Still, at least the German officer in the next frame doesn’t say “to ze vaterland” :Contrast the British approach below. In the kayak, two commandos, who are perfectly well aware that Hitler’s personal order was that if they were captured, they would be shot. This was the “Kommandobefehl” which you can read about here. The man on the submarine, though, might as well be offering to take their letters to the Post Office for them. “Right! Thank you! And could you see if they are still selling those cough sweets I like? Just get me a couple of packets, would you, old chap?”

More irreverence next time.

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Victor Comic and me (2)

Victor Comic normally began with a war story in full colour on the outside covers of the comic. The story was always true, although I don’t think that that ever really registered with me:

This particular story may not have been 100% true but I think that this is because Douglas Bader was still alive at the time and they didn’t want any law suits:

And anyway, what’s an arm or a leg between friends?

Good Old One-Armed Mac was back doing what he did best. Killing Germans:

Good Old One-Armed Mac used to fly a Hawker Hurricane, but the squadron leader chose to ignore totally the aircraft’s fuel tank capacity when he announced one day that they were going to go and attack Germany. Perhaps they went just a little way up the Rhine on an aircraft carrier:

No, I don’t see an arrestor hook there. But they’re very good, aren’t they?

Victor always had completely 100% fictional wartime characters such as Sergeant Matt Braddock VC. He usually flew a Lancaster or a Mosquito but he could turn his hand to anything. Nobody knew that Matt and his navigator George were the adopted sons of Biggles and Ginger:

Here’s the text if you can’t read it:

Given the hair brained nature of some of the things they did, I’m not too surprised that Matt and George were based at the fictional RAF Rampton. Here’s the Terrible Twosome and a nice illustration of what they do best:

Braddock might have been a double Victoria Cross winner, but he was not cut out for training young recruits:

He was not very good either at passing on the idea of “the calm pilot who was always in control” :

He was never really very interested in the concept of patience and understanding:

Occasionally, in the stories featured in Victor Comic the odd cliché would crop up. The clichés were never really a genuine source of negativity though and they were never meant in a nasty way.

And race hatred was something that just did not ever crop up. No higher respect could have possibly been paid, for example, to those great warriors, the Gurkhas or indeed, any other non-white soldiers in the British Army.

Characters from the Middle East could even star in their own series. And, yes, the hero does look a little bit blonde haired with possibly a hint of blue eyes:

But what about “the traditional Jesus” ?  Very few people will ever have been struck by the markedly Jewish appearance of Jesus in illustrations . Here’s Jesus the Viking:

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Victor Comic and me (1)

When I was just a lad in the early 1960s, I read comics at every opportunity.
To be honest, I eventually decided that a comic with only pictures in it was too quickly consumed and for that reason it didn’t give a great deal of value for money. Eventually therefore, I settled on “Wizard” as my comic of choice, because it had only text stories inside and it therefore took a lot longer to read. My favourite characters included “The Wolf of Kabul” a ripping yarn about English intervention in Afghanistan involving a man armed with a cricket bat:

Political correctness was not first and foremost in anybody’s mind in these stories, but at least they did always win:

I also recollect “The Scarlet Skull”, a series about a First World War pilot in a Bristol Fighter who was armed with a Mauser revolver and who brought German aircraft down with just one bullet through the pilot’s head:

There wasn’t anything that he couldn’t do. He inspired me. If there’d still been an RFC in 1962, I would have joined it.

This cover mentions “Wilson the Wonder Athlete” but given my attraction to ice buns and chocolate bars, I wasn’t particularly interested in stories about running around very quickly or about living in a cave on the Yorkshire moors eating nuts and berries:

Another favourite story of mine was about a tree in Kenya that was so high that it had whole tribes of people living in it. No, really, I do remember it, but nobody else seems to!
I did buy other comics with my pocket money though. I can still remember waiting impatiently for a new comic called Victor to come out on February 5th 1961. I went up to the newsagent’s in High Street, Taylors, and asked Albert Taylor to make sure he saved me one. I even returned to his  shop on several occasions to make sure that he had not forgotten what I’d asked him to do:

There was a “Super Squirt Ring” as a free gift, but I just don’t remember that:

What I do remember was the edge of the comic where a machine had cut it. It was heavily and stiffly serrated and very, very tactile as you rubbed your finger across it. Ten years later, I would have a university lecturer telling me about French novelist, Marcel Proust and his madeleine cake but this famous literary event didn’t even come close to Victor Comic around 9.30 am on February 5th 1961.
The free gift from Victor Comic, which I  do definitely remember, was the plastic wallet which would eventually contain more than 20 postcard sized pictures of the ‘Star Teams of 1961’. This is a wallet like the one I had, but I can’t find an exact match:


The Star Teams included England, Tottenham Hotspur and Ipswich and Scottish teams such as Glasgow Celtic, “The Rangers” and Kilmarnock:

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There were also Northern Irish teams such as Glenavon and Portadown whose results, in those days, were featured on BBC TV on Saturday afternoons. Rugby League was not forgotten with Wigan and St Helens. The England and Scotland Rugby Union XVs were there as well. This is Wigan:

Nowadays, the Star Teams of 1961 are almost permanently on sale on ebay, but that’s not the same thrill as going up to the newsagent to buy the comics with them in, straight after breakfast.

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In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command (1)

I haven’t written a book review before, but last week I was quite struck by this particular book, entitled “In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command” written by Howard Hewer. It is by no means a new book. My copy was published in 2000 and I bought a used copy from Abebooks. It was from a bookseller in Toledo, Ohio and the book had been a Library Copy from Greater Victoria Public Library at 735 Broughton St, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 3H2, Canada.

With used library books, especially foreign ones, I always spend time wondering where the book has been, who borrowed it, what their lives were like and so on. I was most intrigued to find a till receipt still inside, detailing the book’s being taken out at precisely 10.41 am on June 16th 2001. Who read it? Did they enjoy it? And most exciting, did they get it back to the library on time by June 30th?

The book tells the story of a young Canadian who joins up and then spends the war in the RAF, mainly in Europe and the Middle East. He is in Bomber Command where casualties, of course, were enormous. There are, really, any number of such books. Some are written to be exciting, some to be poignant and some as detailed historical records. This one is a little bit different and tells the story from the point of view of a Canadian:

I just did not realise that the British would drag innocent young blokes half a world away from their homes to do their fighting and then insult them for their pains…

“We encountered the ‘colonial label’ usually with some snide remark. We grew restive and increasingly rebellious.”

Their reactions were pretty easy-going though, compared to one group. The Aussies:

“erupted in a near riot and refused to appear on parade or in class…Things reached a climax one day in the mess hall. This day the food was particularly inedible and one Aussie grabbed his plate and flung it against the wall just as an RAF air commodore walked through the door…this was not an isolated incident”.

Indeed, he speaks of the Canadian involvement in the “Cranwell Riot”, calmed only by the intervention of Canadian diplomats and Canadian officers. This may be what is being referred to in “The Cream of the Crop: Canadian Aircrew 1939-1945” by Allan D English (page 120) but I haven’t read that book yet. I could find nothing about the episode on the Internet.

We visited Cranwell in May 2010. It was a dull rainy day but here is the main building:

The gates are typical architecture of the time:

They are decorated with the superb badge of the RAF:

I read a lot about the RAF in World War Two but this book presents so much that is new to me. One intriguing footnote tells of the author’s neighbour in 1995 who told him of a fairly amazing incident. The Irish, always pretty anti-English at that time, were supposedly allowing U-boats to refuel in Cork Harbour, so, in late 1942 or early 1943, the RAF sent a force of 8 Blenheims to bomb the harbour “most bombs purposely landing in the bay.”

Well, I’ve never heard this before, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Some 20,000 Irishmen from the Republic were in the British forces, but there were a good few who were very sinister in their activities. In his book, “Clouds of Fear”, Roger Hall alleges that more than one RAF flyer was killed by Irish parachute packers who deliberately sabotaged their parachutes. The men murdered this way included a young man from the High School but that is, as they say, a story for another day.

Bombing Cork, even Blenheims would have been safe from the Irish Air Corps, who used Lysanders:

And the Fairey Battle:

Going back to Howard Hewer’s book, when he was posted to the Middle East, I was really surprised to hear for the first time, of the practice in North Africa of bombing targets which were so far away that the aircraft had to refuel both on the way there and on the way back. The book discusses the conditions at these stopover sites “situated on dried up salt lakes…We carried our bomb load from base, and had to land fully and lethally loaded…we slept on the floor of the aircraft in winter, under the wings during the summer months…we were not issued with sleeping bags…” Presumably, the advent of B-24 Liberators would have helped to phase out these stopovers which were unavoidable with the Wellingtons:

The Liberator had a much better range. Here is one of the first that the RAF received:

Next time, I’ll carry on with Howard Hewer’s adventures in Egypt. There are many more stories about the RAF officers that I had never heard, but they all have that ring of truth.

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My latest book

snip-of-coverThose of you who follow my blog will be familiar with the many stories I have told about Nottingham High School; its Founders, its coat of arms, its war heroes, its caretakers and its one or two villains. I have recently finished compiling these stories, and many more, into a new book called Nottingham High School: The Anecdotal History of a British Public School, published with Lulu.com.

My history is an entertaining one about the people behind the institution – what they thought, said, and did from the reign of Henry VIII up to the modern era. I want to tell the stories of the ordinary people whose actions changed the history of Nottingham forever, and those whose lives had much wider influence on the history of our country and on the lives of people across the world. I tell the tales of all people connected with the High School – teachers, support staff, boys, alumni… from caretakers to kings!

image_update_72e24141db868b82_1348683417_9j-4aaqskThe book is written in diary form and runs from Thursday, June 30th 1289 to Thursday, July 12th 2012. It’s an easy read that you can dip in and out of as you wish. Find out about the antics of the boys, the excesses of the staff, the sacrifices of the alumni, and the castle-like school building in all its majesty.

My book contains new and previously unpublished research into the lives of some of the most famous ex-pupils of the school. Read about the childhood of scurrilous author D.H.Lawrence, whose controversial books were still banned 50 years after he wrote them. Read about the disruptive antics of Albert Ball V.C., the daring air ace who always fought alone. Read about American Old Boy, Major General Mahin of the U.S. Army, a man whose power and authority in the Second World War rivalled that of General Patton, until he was killed (or was it murder?).

The tone of my work is interesting and light, but at the same time, as you know from my blogposts, I can show my more serious side when occasion demands. A very large number of former pupils from the High School died in the two World Wars and their sacrifices are reflected in my book.

I have really enjoyed writing this new history book, and I hope that you will find it an entertaining and intriguing read. If you would like to give it a go, then it is now available from my page on Lulu.com.

p1040694

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The School Leprechaun

After reading all about gnomes, elves, pixies, fairies and such like, it should come as no surprise to hear that Wollaton is not the only place around Nottingham to have played host to fairies in recent times. Marjorie Johnson, the lady who saw fairies in her garden in Carlton was to become very famous in fairy circles. She wrote this best selling book:

fairy book

Here is a link to an account of fairies she saw in Nottingham, in Carlton to be more precise.

Belief in fairies persists still, even in our own time. When we went once to an isolated farm at Constantine in Cornwall, the farmer clearly believed that the huge ruined megalith in his bottom field was the home to fairy folk. He had seen their fairy lights on more than one occasion.

It is in Iceland that gnomes and fairies are taken most seriously. Over a half of Icelanders believe that these tiny entities are, at the very least, “possible”. They are thought to be from another dimension, usually making their homes inside huge boulders and outcrops of rock.

Known as huldufólk these beings are not regarded as trivial. Roads can be redirected on their behalf.

This report by Journeyman starts off in almost comic fashion, but does make some quite serious points:

This film by Torsten Scholl, aka “hatcast” has even more serious points to make:

This account by Richard Williams aka “rockuvages” is of the moment when the huldufólk seem to pop out of their own dimension:

Nowadays, we tend to see fairies and their like as something lovely and wonderful. This attitude has only come about since Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Before that, fairies were considered by those who had regular contact with them to be malevolent beings who, if they were in any way annoyed, would readily kidnap adults, willingly do harm to them and, most of all, steal their babies, replacing them with changelings. This is why nowadays a lot of modern folklorists tend to equate ancient beliefs in fairies, with our current fondness for space aliens and little green men, who have continued in modern times to carry out all of these evil deeds:

green alien

Tales of fairies invariably involve abduction and poor innocent people forced to remain in Fairy Land, sometimes for ever. What difference is there between malevolent fairies holding people hostage in their realm and our modern tales of extra-terrestrial kidnap?

Other parallels are there. Some types of fairies, such as leprechauns and goblins, have green as their favourite colour, just as some aliens are literally “little green men”. Only medical experiments seem to be absent from the connections between the two groups, perhaps because in sixteenth and seventeenth century Ireland or Cornwall, there was no health care available and advanced medicine was not a subject on anybody’s mind. Only ointments and magic potions were on offer back then, and these simple remedies do figure from time to time in the more ancient tales of fairies.

Here is something more modern, a tractor beam, although some would argue that those fairy lights, leading innocent people out onto the marsh to drown or be abducted, did pretty much the same job:

uftgyu
This modern cartoon by “grackle” sums up best our ancient knowledge of fairies, who were by no means the magnanimous and well intentioned Peter Pan heroes of Walt Disney’s world.

Certainly, the Cornish and the Irish, for example, seem to view “piskies” or “the little people” as, at best, potentially tricky and at worst possibly, evil, and similar figures are met with in every human culture across the globe.

In North America, there are Ishigaq (Inuits), Jogahoh (Iroquois), Nimerigar (Shoshone) and the Yunwi Tsundi (Cherokee). In Hawaii, there are the Menehune, and for the Maoris, the Patupaiarehe. In Europe, there is a host of names such as the Brownies, the Kobolds in Germany, GoblinsGremlins, Pixies, Leprechauns and the Swedish “Di sma undar jordi”, who are clearly almost identical with the huldufólk of Iceland:

307228-mythical-creatures-troll

Let’s finish with a quite extraordinary piece of film.

All over the world, of course, as well as “the little people”  there are the enormously large people. In Nepal, the “yeti”, in North America, “Bigfoot”, in Western Europe “the Wildman” or “Wodewose”. In Iraq, he was represented by “Enkidu” the companion of Gilgamesh. In Israel, he was “Goliath” whom David slew:

golithyuj

In Australia, the enormously large person is called the “Yowie” and he is very fierce indeed.

The huge Yowie, though, has a tiny equivalent. To the white man he is “Brown Jack” but to the blackfella he is the “Junjudee”. He is tiny and here is a purported film of one:

Any film by TheRusty222 is well worth watching. He tries to film Yowies but most of all, he ventures deep into the realm of the thickest parts of the Australian bush, an environment of staggering beauty if you ever watch one of his films.
Talking of “Little People”, a few weeks ago, I bought a postcard of the High School taken in 1927. I was intrigued to see what is obviously the “School Leprechaun” busy guarding the front of the school:

lep[rechaun 1

You can see his right hand, his jacket of Irish Green, his little fawn breeches and his lovely top hat. Here he is, slightly enlarged:

lep[rechaun 2

Do you see his mutton chop whiskers? And what about little Pumpkin Head, next to him, with his tiny hat and his little legs and boots?

Both photographs, courtesy of the Pareidolia Brothers.

 

 

 

 

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Call me Ishmael

A few years ago, I asked a group of young people if they had ever read the finest novel ever written in English. They thought that they had probably read it, but asked me if I could be a little bit more precise about its title. I said it was called “Moby Dick”.
And they were wrong. None of them had ever read it.  One person even said that the book could not be considered because it was written by an American. The author’s name, of course, is Herman Melville:

Herman_Melville

Once he had finished with whaling and the sea, Melville came to live safely on land. Here is his house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts:

dick housezzzzzz

A lot of people, of course, are put off by the sheer size of the book. In the three volume British first edition, there were 927 pages. In the American first edition there were 635. (Bigger pages, presumably?).
Help, though, is at hand. I have prepared a handy guide as to which of the CXXXIV chapters can be missed out without causing any real damage to the story, or to your understanding of the plot. The problem was that, at the time the book was written, around 1850-1851, there were no television documentaries. Almost nobody had ever seen a whale. Many people had never even seen the sea. More or less nobody knew anything of whaling:

humpback

The reader, therefore, had to be informed about the Natural History issues involved, and that, dear reader, is the reason for the great number of the, as it were, “non-fiction” chapters.
In my humble opinion, therefore, do not trouble yourself too much with:

Chapters 24, 31, 32, 44, 54, 55, 56, 59, 61, 62, 64, 67, 73, 74, 75, 76, 79, 81, 82, 84, 85, 87, 88, 89, 91, 94, 101, 102, 103 and 104.

Wow!! If that doesn’t attract you, nothing will. In addition, these chapters could be missed out, but they may add a smidgin to your understanding of the book. These are:

 Chapters 39, 40, 41, 83, 93 and 100.

You must read absolutely all of the last thirty chapters, which tell the story of what happens when Captain Ahab and the crew of the Pequod finally set their eyes on a rather angry Moby Dick. (It doesn’t go well.) If you have ever read the book of the film “Jaws”, you will find this last section very reminiscent indeed of that modern classic.
Even if you have doubts, it is not difficult to give it a go. You can download Moby Dick to virtually any type of machine from Amazon, including some of the more modern lawnmowers.

It is free.

For a small fee, you can even download a version with pictures.

And then, away you go!

whale rtyuu

The book is stunning. Pay careful attention to what the characters say and the events which befall them.  You will often find that the author has skilfully linked them together. Perhaps he has provided echoes of words and events as the plot unfolds chapter by chapter. This foreshadowing throughout the book creates great tension, because the reader is given broad hints of what catastrophes are in store for the protagonists (who themselves often refuse adamantly to heed these warnings and carry on regardless to their eventual destruction). Here is Captain Ahab:

gregory-peck-as-ahab-2

And Starbuck. The coffee chain is named after him:

starbuck

Originally, it was going to be called Pequod’s after the ship:

clipper

They’re probably lucky it wasn’t named after the whale. Here is Queequeg, one of the three harpooners:

moby-dick_queequeg-stare

And here is his coffin, floating in the sea:

coffin
D. H. Lawrence, the greatest English novelist, called Moby Dick:

“one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world”

“the greatest book of the sea ever written”

wale tale

Here are half a dozen quotations to whet your appetite:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

giphy

 

“That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”

whale

“…mastering his emotion, Starbuck calmly rose, and as he quitted the cabin, paused for an instant and said to Ahab: “Let Ahab beware of Ahab; beware of thyself, old man.”

Moby_Dick_final_chase

“Tied up and twisted; gnarled and knotted with wrinkles; haggardly firm and unyielding; his eyes glowing like coals, that still glow in the ashes of ruin; Ahab stood forth in the clearness of the morn; lifting his splintered helmet of a brow to the fair girl’s forehead of heaven.”

moby-dickzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

“Ahab is for ever Ahab, man. This whole act’s immutably decreed. It was rehearsed by thee and me a billion years before this ocean rolled. Fool! I am the Fates’ lieutenant; I act under orders.”

Moby-Dick-3

“There is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.”

Moby_Dick_p510_illustration

“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

Moby Dick

And don’t forget, of course, Moby Dick has the most famous beginning of any novel:

“Call me Ishmael.”

The quotations from the end are good, too, but I won’t spoil it for you!

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