Diddly Squat – A Year on the Farm by Jeremy Clarkson

Diddly Squat – Jeremy Clarkson

(Four and a half out of five stars)

If you’ve had a look at the other reviews on this blog, you’ll by now know that I am a big fan of Jeremy Clarkson’s writings. Having recently just finished ‘Can You Make this Thing Go Faster?’ I decided to go straight to this, his latest book, written about the first year of actually ‘working’ his farm. I did so because at two hundred and seven pages, and with larger writing, only around two hundred and fifty words to page, it was likely to be a quick read.

It was. Even quicker than I anticipated because the gap between chapters often amounts to between three and five pages, albeit there are minimalist sketches on the otherwise blank pages. (This accounts for the deduction of half a star in my rating.)

(This is being petty, I know. But it didn’t happen in any other of his books that were awarded five stars, so had to be reflected some way.)

That aside, ‘Diddly Squat‘ is vintage Clarkson, though I feel he has somewhat mellowed in his time away from high performance cars and racing across continents in old banged-up jallopies.

The wit is still acerbic but perhaps tempered by an appreciation for how much graft farmers put into twenty-four hours, together with his appreciation for the countryside in which he lives and works.

Jeremy is often much maligned by those who don’t quite ‘get’ him, but hopefully those who do so will, upon reading this book, have their eyes opened by what he is doing to help re-establish the equilibrium in the environment.

So yeah, in a nutshell, ‘Diddly Squat‘ is funny, sarcastic, wicked, self-deprecating while also highlighting the serious issues faced by the UK farming community in this day and age.

Once again – another great read.

‘Lifted Over the Turnstiles’ by Steve Finan

‘Lifted Over the Turnstiles – Scotland’s Football Grounds in the Black & White Era.’

(***** Five out of five stars.)

For football fans of a certain age, this book is a ‘must.’ Indeed for football fans of ALL ages, this book is a ‘must.’

The book’s subtitle, ‘Scotland’s Football Grounds in the Black & White Era,’ perfectly sums up what to expect in the two hundred and fifty-seven pages. These photos were taken when football grounds had character and individuality. Sure, they were pretty run down and verging on dilapidated when I first attended matches in the late Sixties. But they were happy and exciting times for me, and judging by the crowds drawn to matches not involving either Rangers or Celtic, a great many others felt the same way.

Many of the photos contained in this book actually pre-date my first visits, but I can still identify where I stood / sat in many of the images.

Yeah – time moves on, and health and safety of spectators is paramount, but I do miss these old football grounds.

This is a book I will pick up time and time again and drift back to a more colourful, if only black and white, time for Scottish football.

‘Can You Make This Thing Go Faster? ‘ by Jeremy Clarkson

(***** Five out of five stars.)

I’m no petrolhead; cars do nothing for me and the only way I can be moved by them is by sitting inside one. Consequently, TV shows such as Top Gear and Grand Tour in which Jeremy Clarkson featured / features, leave me pretty cold. As do his books in which he discusses the virtues, and lack of, relative to cars that in the main I’ve never even heard of. It’s all just a list of incoherent numbers and letters to me.

Jeremy’s books however, those that comprise his rants and musings on life and situations in general really tickle my cynical and sarcastic funny bone.

As with the other nine I have in my collection, ‘Can You Make This Thing Go Faster?’ is a collection of his weekly articles for The Sunday Times. These ones cover the period between, 7th January 2018 and 29th December 2019.

Spread over three hundred and eight pages, each section runs to only three and a half pages, around one thousand to eleven hundred words. This makes it perfect for us with short attention spans and poor memory! If you’re looking for a quick hit of acerbic wit to brighten your day, this is it.

Jeremy Clarkson’s sense of humour may not be to everyone’s taste these days, but as a tight-arsed, grumpy Scotsman with short arms and long pockets, I firmly believe everyone should be able to laugh at themselves above and before anything else. He may not be ‘politically correct’ in his attitudes,but I love it!

The Adventures of Tintin.

Maybe it is s a little weird, a sixty-three year old reading and commenting on the Tintin series of books, but hey – why not? These books take me back to my childhood and there is a lovely innocence about them.

I actually bought the full twenty-three book box set a few months ago and am gradually working my way through them. (I know – more money than sense, probably.) Interestingly, with present day PC / ‘woke’ attitudes, to complete the full set of books, I had to purchase ‘Tintin In The Congo’ as a separate edition, the producers of the box set probably not keen on reproducing stereo-typical images and language from less informed times.

The first book in the series, though, is ‘In The Land Of The Soviets.’ from 1929 and appeared initially in the children’s section of the Belgian newspaper, Le Vingtieme Siecle. Tintin author Herge, had just been employed as an artist for the paper, and although he had not been to Russia himself, he was inspired by a book he had read the previous year to write the story line highlighting the Soviet propaganda machine,

The artwork is monochrome and pretty basic, with no more than six image panels to a page, resulting in this book being longer, certainly as far as pages go (141) than any of those subsequent.

Of course, the language is very ‘stiff upper lip’ quaint and pours ridicule and scorn on the Soviet Union and all it stood for. Ironically, in doing so, the book could stand accused of pushing propaganda on behalf of ‘the West.’ It’s all jolly good fun though.

The second Tintin book is the one mentioned earlier – ‘Tintin In The Congo.’ It does not even merit a mention in the box set of paperbacks. The copy I have is a ‘Collector’s Edition’ hardback that ‘completes the series of twenty four Tintin adventures by Herge.’ It is published by Casterman, as opposed to Egmont who ran with the rest.

The story once again appeared in serialised newspaper form, in 1931, then published as a book a short time after. The book’s foreward states the following:
‘In his portrayal of the Belgian Congo, the young Herge reflects on the colonial attitudes of the time. he himself admitted that he depicted the African people according to the bourgeois, paternalistic stereotypes of the period – an interpretation that some of today’s readers may find offensive. The same could be said of his treatment of big game hunting.’

Yeah – I can see why some may consider the book to be inappropriate nowadays. Personally, I’m certain the author had no intention of causing offense, but it was a good idea to withdraw this adventure from the box set and not ‘force’ it upon buyers keen to read all the other stories. This way the curious and ‘completists’ like myself can still access the book, and in the prior knowledge that it could be upsetting.

In some respects, those put off by the attitudes evidenced in the ‘Congo’ book could also find offence in some of the depictions in the third book, ‘Tintin In America,’ originally published in 1932.

This adventure sees Tintin confront danger at the hands of ‘the mob’ and also native Indians. Already, the storylines have a good deal familiarity with those already read, but (forgetting they were written for children) they are still good fun!

Cigars Of The Pharaoh‘ sees the introduction of the Thomson Twins – two bowler hatted, policemen who have the knack of messing things up. At this point, we know of them only as the police numbers, X33 and X33A and it is a few tales down the line before we we are made aware of their surname. I believe they appear in all but one of the following storylines.

From the title and cover artwork, I fully expected this adventure to be centred around Egypt, but as it happens, most of the action I would say takes place in India, which i did find a little strange. No ‘spoilers’ here, but I was interested to read about a present day world problem being an issue back in the times of this tale too..

Well – that’s four down, twenty to go! I have to say, I’m actually enjoying these books. I don’t remember owning any of these as a kid, but have vivid and fond memories of reading them / borrowing them from my local library.

This box set I now have, comprise the larger, glossy, paperback versions. They are bold and colourful, produced on good quality paper. At £89 (at time I bought) from Amazon, it’s not a cheap purchase. Broken down though into an average book cost of £3.87, then that changes the perspective totally, and in my opinion, well worth the outlay.

(From time to time, I will post further brief comments on the others in the series.)

_____________________________________

Grandad – What was football like in the 1970s?

(***** Five out of Five Stars)

I loved this book! Partly because this is the era I grew up in and started going to football matches with my mates, and also because I run a blog devoted to this decade – ‘Once Upon a Time in The ’70s.

I found it took a bit of time to get going, and I was on the verge of giving up, but I’m so glad I persisted. Not unnaturally I suppose, author Richard Crooks focuses very much on his team, Sheffield Wednesday – especially so in the early pages. Nothing wrong with that at all.It would still have been an interesting read overall.

However, the scope of the book widens as you read on, and all aspects of football in England through The Seventies are covered, evoking some really strong memories – even though all my football experiences during the decade (other than a couple of trips to Wembley and one to White Hart Lane) were in Scotland.

Richard paints a vivid picture of the match day experience, covering everything from the players and referees of the time to the grounds and half time refreshments. Pages are als devoted as the means by which matches and results were reported and how e, as fans, would discover how our rival teams fared.

If you’re of a certain age, this book is full of warm nostalgia; if you’re not quite there yet, you’ll realise how spoilt you are now when you go to watch your team.

(OR – are you ….? )

‘Jack’s Game’ by Andrew Chapman

(*****Five out of Five Stars)

I’d seen this mentioned on social media and though Horror books are not my normal reading material, I thought i’d give it a go.

Firstly, if ‘gaming’ floats your boat, then you’re off to a great start with ‘Jack’s Game,’ as the story revolves around the development of a Nineties computer game. Don’t worry though, there’s not so much geek talk as to put the philistine reader (like me) off. But I can imagine some who are into this scene will be purring and sighing at the nostalgia.

This is a read that’s ‘easy on the eye.’ Good use is made of conversation to paint the picture and there are some genuinely spine chilling moments. I also liked the way the author brought the tale to a conclusion … I will say no more.

For some reason, it took me a while to get it into my head this story was not set in USA, but UK. I guess that’s the power of movies, an how they influence your subconscious..

But yeah – and enjoyable read and well portrayed, I’d say.

‘Back Next Year!: The Story of Following Stockport County and the 20/21 season’ by Stewart Taylor

(***** Five out of Five Stars)

The book opens with the author attending Edgeley Park for the first time on returning to live in the country, and looking for something different to his Grandfather instilled Man United allegiance. Coincidentally, it was only a few months after this I attended my first County match, having moved down to the area from Scotland.

I can completely identify with the way the Club grabs the fan! I didn’t get to as many games as I’d have liked – Friday nights in those Yuppie years were for staff socialising in the Manchester bars – but I fell in love with the club, standing mainly Pop Side in crowds of @ 1500

I don’t get to see the team live much now I’ve moved back North, but retained my support, and the one ‘good’ thing about Lockdown in 2020 was the fact that all the County matches were streamed.

I didn’t quite make the same number as Stewart did – I missed two due to my own sporting commitments – but it was great to read about and identify with all those matches again.

Very enjoyable read.

‘The Gospel According to Blindboy’ by Blindboy Boatclub.

(***** Five out of Five Stars)

Just such a surreal book! Hysterically funny in bits, but also enlightening and sad in places when talking of mental illness.
Overall though, it’s the completely darkly bonkers imagination of Blindboy that sets this book apart.

It’s hard to say why I found this book so interesting without giving the game away with spoilers. Suffice to say, if you have a bit of a warped sense of humour and aren’t easily offended – then go get this book … or indeed check out his podcasts.

‘Get Those Sheep Off the Pitch!: A Life in Non-league Football’ by Phil Staley

(***Three out of Five Stars)

As a non-league fan and fan of grassroots football, I was really looking forward to this one. It’s interesting and easy read and on a football front, it gave a good feel for what it must be like working in a sporting environment a million miles away from the Premier league.

I don’t think fans of the ‘big’ clubs can ever appreciate the time and effort that goes into running a club like those mentioned in this book – and for miniscule, if any, financial reward. There are many hilarious moments / situations in which the author finds himself, but regrettably the attempt at humour didn’t always come across in a good light, hence the three stars.
However, I’d still recommend this one for any fan of Non-League football.

‘Neither Wolf Nor Dog: On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder’ by Kent Nerburn

(*****Five out of Five Stars)

I’m always wary of books that have been raved about, but this didn’t disappoint. I’m also wary of reviewing this book in a way that Dan would disapprove, neither wishing to patronise nor treat the circumstances with unnecessary sympathy. This book is about neither. It’s about ‘understanding.’

Which maybe makes ‘Neither Wolf Nor Dog’ sound like a heavy read. It’s anything but.

The writing is colourful, and the conversations between Dan and Nerburn are thought provoking.
And though this is about American Indians, the book could also relate to the manner in which other races are perceived, even to this day, by ‘the white man.’