Saturday, 13 August 2016

Happy Left-Handed Day!

Yes, in a world whew there's a day for everything, today really is World Left-Handed Day.

As a life-long south paw, along with Barack Obama (and a host of other US Presidents) I'm more than happy to post something positive about our much maligned preference. 

Even the word 'left' in some languages leaves a lot to be desired - 'gauche' (French) and 'sinestra' (Latin) imply a lack of skill and worse, while 'links' (left) in Dutch and German also means 'clumsy'.

And why do we wear our wedding rings on our left hand? Why, to ward off the evil that might otherwise blight our nuptial bliss! 

Being left-handed isn't easy, but at least as we smudge the ink on life's page we can count ourselves in good company. So, raise a glass (in your left-hand) to the one in ten of us who do it - write, pitch, bat, bowl, serve, return, tee off and think - differently. Lefties, you're in good company...

Leonardo da Vinci
Marie Curie
Neil Armstrong

And many more.

And now, a quick commercial...

Friday, 5 August 2016

Banks of Green Willow

Today marks the centenary of the death on the Somme of one of this country's most promising composers. I've written about George Butterworth before, most recently when we went on our own pilgrimage to Thiepval, where his is one of the 'intolerably nameless names' of those with no known grave commemorated on that huge memorial.

I'd always planned to post something today, to mark another of the many sad anniversaries. But then I came across this, a short film by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I can do no better...

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

All the nice girls...

... love a soldier.

Don't they?

(Or should that be a sailor?)

Never mind.

I never thought publishing fiction would be easy. Far from it. But I must admit I didn't anticipate having to do this...

So, if you see me dressed thus this summer, playing World War One trench songs and handing out postcards, do please take one, take a look and maybe make a pledge for my novel, The Glorious Dead, currently being crowdfunded by award-winning innovative imprint, Unbound.


Saturday, 23 July 2016

Hello Dickies!

Doing a good job is about having the right gear. Wouldn't you feel better doing those little jobs around the house and in the garden if you had the right tools and - crucially - the right clothes?

Now, the job I do doesn't really require anything special by way of clothing. There's no uniform, no dress code, nothing. In fact, I could probably wear nothing (and sometimes do) and it wouldn't matter. (I'm talking, dear reader, about my tenuous hold on the career of writer rather than my former life as a schoolteacher. Obviously!)

Anyway, I might not do a job that requires specialist clothing but I do plenty of jobs that do - little jobs around the house (and jobs around the little house) and so when Dickies Workwear invited me to try a couple of items from their range, I jumped at the chance.

First up, shorts. Eisenhower Premium shorts, to be precise. With zip off, angled holster pockets reinforced with Cordura® as well as regular pockets, 2 back pockets reinforced with Cordura® there's plenty of places for tools, which means that they're there where you need them, when you want them.
They're tough, too. Made of 65% polyester, 35% cotton ripstop with Teflon coating, they're certainly up to the job. Pretty much any job.

And then there's the rather elegant Professional Combat Bodywarmer...

This rather stylish, zip fronted (with velcro fastened storm flap) sleeveless jacket has a mobile phone pocket (again, with velcro fastening), pen pocket and generous waist pockets too. Again, the resilient 65% polyester, 35% cotton twill fabric (with water repellent finish) will keep you warm as well as well provided for.

Both are available from the Dickies website (along with the entire range of outerwear, trousers, footwear and safety clothing) and come highly recommended.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The Last Day of World War One

That was the title of an excellent documentary shown on Monday night, presented by Michael Palin, about the men who died - and continued to die - after the 1918 Armistice.

It's been on before and I saw it first time round. But it still makes fascinating viewing. It's this hinterland of Great War history - the margins, peripheries and hidden corners - that fascinates me. It's what led me to research and write about the great forgotten army, the men who continued to serve their King and country on the Western Front for up to three years after the 1918 armistice... finding and burying bodies. And slowly rebuilding their own lives. 

It's a little-known fact that a further 863 Commonwealth soldiers died on the last day of the Great War, many of them hours after the Armistice had been signed - but before, of course, the hour at which it was decreed that the fighting should be stopped.

The hopelessness of the German cause - following the failure of the Spring offensive - had probably been apparent for four or five months, from when the tide turned in July on the River Marne. Subsequent Allied offensives, starting with the British attack at Amiens on August 8th, virtually destroyed the German army. Back home, the Allied naval blockade was slowly destroying Germany. And then, of course, the Americans arrived. Although US involvement wasn't altogether effective (due to failures by their commanding officers - where have we heard that before?) the writing, for the 14-18 conflict, was already on the wall. 

So why did so many men still have to die? Why did the fighting go on for so long?

The answer is depressingly familiar and has a very topical ring - politics, specifically the wrangling of politicians failing to agree the terms of what they knew was coming.

But even when the ink was eventually dry and the document was sealed, the killing continued. On the morning of November 11th itself, news of the Armistice reached Britain in time for the late editions of the daily newspapers. There was cheering in the streets and bells were rung hours before the eleventh hour. But men were still being sent over the top and into battle. 

For what?

It's no secret that the US General John Pershing was unhappy with the terms of the Armistice, believing that the Germans wouldn't regard themselves as beaten and that 'we'll have to do it all again someday...' Prophetic words. And there are tales of newly-liberated Belgian civilians urging Allied soldiers on with shouts of 'Berlin! Berlin! La guerre ne pas finis!' 

But by then the damage was done, the Armistice signed and the clock was ticking.

But the guns kept firing. 

You can watch the programme for the next 28 days on BBC iPlayer. If, like me, what interests you about military history - or history in general - in not the highways but the by-ways, I'm sure you'll enjoy it. If what interests you is reading about a long-neglected by-way of history brought to life through fiction, then you might even like to consider pledging for my book, The Glorious Dead. You can find out all about it here:

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