Saturday 11 July 2015

BATTLE O F BRITAIN 75th Anniversary brings back memories

Where I live now I can stand outside and point through a 360 degree circle and name the locations of the Battle Of Britain airfields. North-west is Gravesend; north-east are Croydon, Kenley and Biggin Hill; to the west are Tangmere, Detling and Headcorn; south and east are Hawkinge, Lyminge and Manston. There are more but yesterday, 10th July was the marked anniversary of the start of the Battle Of Britain.

I sat in my armchair feeling a little lethargic, maybe it was just the heat. Then I heard a sound, faint at first but building - jet engines but not the usual sound made by a passing passenger plane. No, this was a sound that bought a familiar tightness to the gut and set the adrenalin racing. I had never moved so fast - I was out of the back door and almost leaping over the back fence - or was it falling over. Who cares - I was there in time to see a massive contrail blossoming out as nine jets screamed behind the bungalows opposite. Excited, I rushed back inside and dragged my wife outside. Well, the planes had gone and we thought that was that.

It wasn't for no sooner had she gone back inside than the planes came back in diamond formation. I don't know how long it lasted but I stood there mesmerised as I and a neighbour stood outside watching what almost seemed to be a private display by the Red Arrows. Overhead they streamed out with red, white and blue smoke - singly nine aircraft ripped the sky apart.

In doing so this display took me back to the twentieth anniversary of the Battle Of Britain. September 1960 I was with 173 Squadron Air Training Corps based at St. Mary Cray, Orpington, Kent. As such I was part of the Guard Of Honour at R.A.F Biggin Hill. Flights of Hawker Hunters, Gloster Javelins rubbed wings with classics like Spits and Hurricanes.
There I was crisp in uniform, belt whited with blanco; brass gleaming and boots polished to the point that I could see my (exaggeration) face in them. Lee Enfield .303 held at salute as the local dignitaries, Air Commodores and Air Marshalls filed past. But it was the guy at the back with the balding head, hair slicked back and wearing the familiar sports jacket and grey flannels who stumped by who stopped me from looking eyes front. My mouth went dry as one of my heroes went by but not before I saw a mischievous glint in his eye followed by a slight nod. This meeting with the fighter ace Douglas Bader was by no means the end of a magic day.

Later that day I flew for the first time. I was invited by the crew of a Lancaster bomber 'G George' for a quick flight which took us over Orpington. It was noisy and I never realised just how cramped it was. The experience was something else and when I got home my dad said that he had seen the Lancaster fly over the house. Unfortunately, he thought that I was telling a tale.

Twenty one years later I met up with G-George. The Lanc is now housed at the War Museum at the Memorial in Canberra, Australia. And, yes, I got into trouble because I climbed over the barrier to have a good look. After I explained why I had done it I was cautioned not to do it again.

I love the Red Arrows but I do relate more to the planes that flew in the war. Look to the sky and see a Hurricane or a Spitfire and they make me think of a time when the British, Poles, French, Czech, Australian, New Zealanders, Canadian, American (most of them volunteers because the States hadn't entered the war) to name some of the pilot nationalities fought an air war that brought an end to Hitler's plan to invade our island. Amongst these pilots were men like the South African Sailor Malan; Al Deere from Australia and Brits like 'Ginger' Lacey, Richard Hillary, Bob Stanford-Tuck and Douglas Bader
Although I wasn't around for the Battle Of Britain the pilots, the planes and the airfields were a part of my childhood.....just as the sight of Hunters and Javelins were a part of my schooldays (they used to fly over the playground every lunchtime when I was at Warren Road school) and my time with the Air Training Corps.

Friday 3 July 2015

RED DEAD REDEMPTION: Going Wild For The Western

Still going strong on the games consoles Red Dead Redemption from creators Rockstar is holding its own.

With the recent announcement at E3 that the future of the Xbox One would include backward compatibility that would enable Xbox 360 games to be played on the new generation console - a new voting system has been put in place. Currently, and way out ahead of all other games, Red Dead Redemption is top of the leaderboard.

If gamers are voting this way....then this is a western that is far from dead.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

HUMBER BOY B by Ruth Dugdall

A red trainer falls from the Humber bridge into the water close to where schoolteacher Roger Palmer is fishing. Close by is his daughter, Cheryl, who is bored out of her mind. These are the first to experience the tragedy that follows as the body of 10 year old Noah Watts joins his red trainer. CCTV catches two boys on film who run from the scene with the younger of the two catching the other in an ecstatic embrace.

Two brothers are convicted. Adam, the elder aged 14, is found not guilty of murder but guilty of complicity and receives a four year sentence. On his release he is allowed home to his family. For Ben aged 10 it is a life sentence.

After eight years in various institutions Ben is released and given a new identity. At first life on the outside is strange but with help from the probation service he is found a flat overlooking the Ipswich Marina and a job in the local aquarium where he becomes involved with the manager's family.

However idyllic this might sound his release sparks a Facebook campaign to track him down so that Noah Watts mother, Jessica, can ask that one question - why? And the gutter press are quick to jump on the bandwagon.

Cate Austin, the probation officer, does her best to support Ben despite her involvement with a police officer from Luxembourg and the sudden return of her sister Liz who has a startling revelation for Cate.
For her part Cate is a good person but also human and that leads her into more trouble as she tries hard to do her best for Ben against mounting opposition.

The story of Humber Boy B has several threads - Chapters titled The Day Of backtrack over the events leading to the death of Noah Watts - those titled Now deal with the Facebook campaign while Ben and Cate cover the present - but together build a picture towards the climax.

In her afterword Ruth Dugdall admits that the idea began to form as far back as 2000 when she first started work at a Suffolk prison unit set up for young boys who had committed crimes similar to those described in this book. And through reading this book I guess that the murder of James Bulger would come to mind. Yet there is one scene where Adam sits in court looking all quiet and gullible that suggest his innocence - a scene that reminds me of two young girls sitting in court; one dressed smartly and looking the picture of innocence who was found not guilty of murder while her shabbily dressed friend was found guilty. It is plain and, I think, this book makes it understood that there are no clear cut answers.

Humber Boy B is one read that keeps you on your toes - as with her previous books just as you think you've worked it out Ruth Dugdall throws the perfect curve ball with precision timing.

Ruth Dugdall, who's previous books 'The Woman Before Me' and 'The Sacrificial Man' both feature Cate Austin, will soon be bringing out a new Cate Austen novel 'Nowhere Girl' with a change of setting in Luxembourg.