For crying out loud!

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I have to confess I absolutely love Top Gear. I love the TG Triad of Clarkson, May and Hammond, the cars, the jokes and the madcap adventures around the world. How does this sit with my rather Greenish and liberal stance on everything else? Very badly. But I also love being entertained by witty, cheeky – yes, even bombastic – Englishmen(QI is another case in point)and yes, I love Jeremy Clarkson best of all. Even if most of it isn’t irony, sarcasm or just plain self mocking British humour, I love the way he talks, the way he writes and the way he slags off sacred cows.  Knowing this, my eldest daughter bought me a gift pack of three of his books, and I have happily devoured them all. Drat the man, I laughed even when I disagreed with him. But actually, quite often I did. The world, according to Clarkson, is a daft place that has abandoned common sense and is slowing strangling in its own politically correct red tape. Honestly, who can argue with that? Well, the people busy wrapping the tape obviously. The rest of us are too busy choking on it.

Clarkson has no such restraints, he talks right through it, about everything, from Audis to Coke Zero, about cars, phone boxes, binge drinking, droughts…he fills that column of his in the British Sunday Times with whatever is on his mind at the moment – and there’s a lot. He’s not always wrong either. “The sea’s a frothing maelstrom of terror and hopelessness” does sound more exciting that the bland weather forecast of “stormy”. This book is dedicated “with gratitude to the Green movement, the Americans and the Health and Safety Executive for giving me so much to write about.”

But is he betraying green sympathies in How to Blow Up a Dead Seal when he writes of his efforts to dispose of the body of a seal dead from natural causes on a beach. In typical Top Gear style he does try to blow it up, but the body is barely touched, although the rest of the beach looks like Beirut. Finally he tries to dig a hole in the sand with a bulldozer but it keeps filling itself in, so he is forced to leave the seal to decompose aromatically while Clarkson wears a gas mask to write his column.

Lovely, side splitting stuff. He’s a one man Monty Python. OK, so he didn’t actually manage to give the dead seal a decent burial. But at least he tried, and that might just make him green enough to pass muster. I hope so, because I really don’t want to have to stop loving him – and Top Gear.

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The Man Who Would Be Jack the Ripper

The "From Hell" Letter postmarked 15...
The “From Hell” Letter postmarked 15 October 1888 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is no shortage of books purporting to have been ‘discovered’ in a secret hiding place, rather than written by a contemporary author. It’s a popular conceit in the literary world, and sometimes it succeeds for a while. But The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper has a twist. The manuscript, it is claimed, was found among the possessions of a real person, the late S.G. Hulme-Beaman, who created Toytown and Larry the Lamb.

 According to the preface, Hulme-Beaman’s niece, Mrs. Jean Caldwell, called Alan Hicken, of the Montacute TV, Radio and Toy Museum in Somerset, and asked him if he would like a collection of memorabilia belonging to her uncle. As Larry the Lamb was a popular radio character for children, Hicken enthusiastically accepted. Among the items, he found an unpublished manuscript, The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper.

 The author of the ms. claimed to be one James Carnac, the son of a doctor who was briefly a medical student in his turn, and who, in the book, claimed to be the man who killed and dismembered several women in London’s Whitehall district in the 1880s. Part One of the book is about Carnac’s early life, while Part Two covers the period of the murders. Part Three appears to be Carnac’s last years before his death.

 After reading the manuscript and becoming convinced it was genuine, Hicken passed it on to crime historian and ‘ripperologist’ Paul Begg. His lengthy analysis also appears in the book, as well as a prologue by him, in which he states that, at the very least, this manuscript can’t be viewed as legal evidence, as it is not signed by witnesses.

I’m not convinced it is anything but a piece of fiction. It was likely written by Hulme-Beaman himself, who like J.K. Rowling, probably just wanted to do something different after writing for children. So the only question is – is it any good? And the answer to that is no. If you are looking for shock and horror, there are any number of books that will give you blood curdling descriptions of the crimes. This one won’t. It is claimed the manuscript was ‘edited’ by the executor of Hulme-Beaman’s will, which is very handy if you don’t want to into detail that might be proved wrong. As well, it is badly written, and here the author falls back on that old excuse that goes something like “I’m a serial killer, not a writer.” Ho hum.

Then there is the fact that James Carnac never existed at the time and place he mentions in the manuscript, nor is there any record of his parents, his landladies or anyone else connected to him (except the victims). Possibly he changed all the names – but why would he, if this is a confession only meant to be read after his death?

 So, on this occasion, the ‘discovery’ might actually be real, but what was discovered is still clearly a work of fiction. If you want to make the world think someone long dead wrote your manuscript, you are going to have to a hell of a lot more convincing than this.

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The book is available at Book Depository. My thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.

Sunday 1939

This story is in response to the photo prompt at Friday Fictioneers. The prompt is not an easy one this time, and I honestly thought it would be beyond me. But it stirred memories of stories I heard from people who recalled the start of WWII on September 1, 1939, and my father’s comment that war was “never did anyone any good and mostly it’s the children that suffer.”

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Sunday 1939

Sundays were quiet in our house. Usually, we gathered around the radio – father quietly reading the paper, mother knitting, and me busy with my crayons and drawing paper.

This Sunday seemed different. Dad’s paper was still folded, and mum’s knitting lay idly in her lap. They were watching me with my crayons drawing dresses for my paper dolls, as if it were the most important thing on earth.

Then I caught the words coming from the radio. “This country is at war with Germany.”

My mother gave a sob and grasped me in her arms. Outside, air raid sirens shrieked for the first time.

Next day, I was standing on a railway station with a name tag and a suitcase. I never went home again.

 

*Just a note to say that this did not happen to me. I am a Baby Boomer, born after the war. But it did happen to a British friend of my parents, who was evacuated to the country as a child when war was declared. Her home was destroyed in the London bombings, and her parents did not survive the war. I thought this was actually a story that could be told on both sides of the war, since my father heard similar stories from death camp survivors. Suddenly they would find themselves on a train station and never see their home again. As he said, it is mostly the children that suffer.