Monday, October 30, 2023

Halloween 2023

Annamaria on Monday

When the dentist told me I would have to have periodontal surgery  he said I needed to pick a day when I would not have to be doing anything in public like making a speech or showing up at an event for a few days. When we compared calendars, his assistant offered me Tuesday, October 31. The dentist had ready warned me that after the operation my face might be swollen and even black and blue. Under those circumstances, Halloween seemed like a good choice. I told them that, post surgery, my face would be my scary mask for the holiday.

With that event coming up, I also have to keep in mind that, given the painful aftermath, I will be out of commission for a while and should prepare by getting up to date on a whole lot of important work.

I am doing so as best I can. So leading up to the surgery, rather than spending half a day writing a new essay about Halloween, I'm taking the easy way out: photographs!

Ghosts of Halloweens Past

We were a six pack

Greetings from Greenwich Village: Halloween 2023




Saturday, October 28, 2023

The Jokes Are On MIE...err, Me



Late last night we returned to America from Greece.  Today we spent most of our day attempting to unpack while catching up on cable news’ take on the state of our nation.  The more we learned via the latter, the less committed were we to achieving the former. After all, with each new snippet of news on what’s happening across America, the more counterintuitive unpacking became.


It was during one of those reflective moments that I realized it was Friday and I had a blog due to go up at midnight (if in the Eastern US Time Zone). After a day of reflecting on the human condition (USA version 2023) I had no appetite for extending my serious mood in my blogpost. And I thought you might be looking for a bit of a smile too.


So, for you play-on-words fans, here’s a dozen and a half chuckles with a somewhat international cast to them.



 I never thought orthopedic shoes would really work for me, but I stand corrected.

Once upon a time there was a king who was only 12 inches tall. He was a terrible king, but he made a great ruler.
A Mexican magician said he will disappear on the count of 3. He says, “"Uno, dos.” Poof. He disappeared without a tres.
I wrote a book on how to fall down the stairs. It’s a step by step guide.
My son was chewing on electric cords, so I had to ground him. It’s OK, though. He’s doing better and conducting himself properly.
My friend claims that he “accidentally" glued himself to his autobiography, but I don’t believe him. But that's his story and he’s sticking to it.
“Doctor, my child swallowed a roll of film. What should I do?”
“Let’s wait and see if anything develops.”
An armed man ran into a real estate agency and shouted, “Nobody move.”
Got drunk yesterday and threw up in the elevator on my way back home. It was disgusting on so many levels.
Why did the Mexican take anti-anxiety medication? For Hispanic attacks.
I asked the surgeon if I could administer my own anesthetic. He said, “Sure. Knock yourself out!”
I got into a fight today with 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9. The odds were really against me.
In Britain it’s called a lift but Americans call it an elevator. I guess we were just raised differently
97% of people are stupid. Glad I’m in the other 5%.
Can someone please tell me what LGBTQ+ stands for? Nobody is giving me a straight answer. 

The time is always right to do what is right.

I have 2 unwritten rules.





Jeff's Upcoming Events;


Friday, 17 November 2023 @ 11AM


SUNSHINE NOIR panel @ Kjarval venue

with Philip Gwynne Jones, Lexie Elliott, and Jackie Collins



Friday, October 27, 2023

Dan Waddell- The Blogger Rebooted

A few weeks ago, I asked Dan Waddell, ( the Friday blogger before me) to catch up with us in the ten years - was it ten years - since he last blogged.  Here is is, 

I'm questioning in pnk, he's answering in aubergine!

That was Dan Waddell, the fresh-faced, eager young author with cheekbones, high ideals and agog at the wonderful world of publishing. He is not to be confused with Dan Waddell, the frazzled 50-something bloke with a a deep-rooted cynicism about the often less-than-wonderful-world of publishing. 

2) What are you working on now? Journalism? Creative writing? Are they the same thing now? Cricket?

Since 2018 I’ve been working as a researcher for the Claimants and lawyers who have been during various newspapers for phone hacking and other criminal activities, which is still rumbling through the courts ten years on. (I actually wrote a bit about this for MiE when the scandal first emerged). I’m a recovering journalist so it was felt I could add some expertise, and some initial work has grown into a lot of work, and very interesting it has been, too. Rather than listen to me ramble on, you can actually watch me talk about it in this documentary

I still write, though I haven’t published anything for a while. That will change soon - not least because the work above has given me material for about three novels. I’m also trying to get a movie off the ground based on a non-fiction book I wrote, Field of Shadows, about a cricket tour by some English gentlemen to Nazi Germany in 1937 (which I also wrote about on MiE!

I still play cricket, even though at my age it’s probably not advisable. But the way I look it it, it helps me stave off a mid-life crisis and it’s better for me to wobble around a cricket pitch in undignified fashion than buy a motorbike and or start baking sourdough bread.

3) Given that you write fiction and non fiction, what do you find easier?

Non-fiction. I enjoy research, and if you’ve done lots of it the empty page is far less intimidating than with fiction.
4) Ten years since you've been on the blog, what is the biggest societal change in that time?

Sadly I’d have to say it’s the UK’s slide into the abyss. We’re in what my grandmother would have called a “right state” - Brexit and 13 years of Tory government have all but destroyed the place. 

Even more seriously, cricket teas have declined. Gone are the days of huge spreads of sandwiches, pies and cakes - now we get pasta and salad. Barely a slice of Battenberg or Malt Loaf to be seen anywhere. There are young cricketers who don’t know what it’s like to field for three hours while digesting huge slabs of sponge cake. Utterly scandalous

5) What book would you like to have written (excluding Harry Potter for the money) ?

Non-fiction - Hack Attack by Nick Davies, an excellent book about the phone hacking scandal (but which only really tells half the story - maybe some day, someone will tell the other half...)

Fiction - This is Memorial Device by David Keenan, a lovely novel about the post-punk scene in Airdrie in the 1980s (a bit niche, but I love it)

6) People who drink fancy coffee have cockapoos. Folk who watch cricket drink fine red wine. Discuss.

I’m with you on the cockapoos but not the cricket. My experiences of playing and watching cricket involve copious amounts of beer. Every season I put on weight, which is what makes it such a great sport. What other sport does everyone stop halfway through to eat pie and cake (or bloody pasta and salad)?

We have a beagle not a cockapoo. Beagle owners drink lots of alcohol because they are complete bastards.

7) Are you stll living in/around London? Do you love it?

Still in London and I have no plans to leave. It’s my home now and I love it, even if you have to sell a kidney to buy a pint of beer. Samuel Johnson said “If you’re tired of London you’re tired of life”  - but then he never had to pay £7.50 for a Guinness
8) Barbie or Oppenheimer?

Oppenheimer. Mainly because as the father of a daughter, I trod on too many Barbie bits and pieces to have anything other than loathing for all she stands for. Same with the Lego movies - standing on those are even more painful than a Barbie accessory

9) What are you reading right now?

This makes me sound as pretentious as hell but I’m re-reading Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. It came up in a discussion with a friend - he says it’s overrated, I say it’s the finest novel ever. So I’m re-reading it and I reckon I’m right and he’s not.

 Or add anything else you want to say.... delete anything you don’t!

I’d like to say hello to the MiE writers and readers. I enjoyed writing for the blog immensely, though I don’t miss having to come up with an idea` to write about every week. But then two of the topics I wrote about spurred me on to write books about them, so it was worth it!

Thursday, October 26, 2023

The non-history of Sailor Malan

Michael - alternate Thursdays

In her post, Veracity in Historical Fiction, Annamaria invited us to consider the constraints put on historical fiction writers by the history itself. She knows much more about historical writing than I do, but her post seemed to me to be a part of a bigger issue. How much of history is actually “true” and how much the probabilistic deductions of historians? Certainly there are established facts, often dates. But is that what history is about? Surely not. It's about the lives of men and women, the political forces and events, causes and effects. Those are much more interesting and, of course, much harder to pin down.

This is certainly not news to anyone. Some other takes:

"History is a set of lies agreed upon." — Napoleon Bonaparte

"History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." — Winston Churchill

"The past changes a little every time we retell it." — Hilary Mantel

Richard III
There are thousands more in the same vein. Sometimes we are left with puzzles as complex as any murder mystery. For example, did we ever come to a conclusion about the Princes in the Tower? We all know this famous story of Richard III. His throne was essentially usurped by Henry VII, who had very little title to it. It was very important to Henry that he show that Richard III also had very little right to the throne and was an evil and deformed man. So he set up a folio of “lies agreed upon.” Elizabeth I had her own issues with title and didn’t need anyone stirring up the past, so Shakespeare held to the “lies agreed upon” in his play. That view of Richard III was largely accepted until the last century. This was certainly a case of history being written by the victors.

The Princes in the Tower
Subsequently, it turned out that Richard was actually a rather good king with no physical deformities. To this day no one knows what happened to his nephews, the princes, who disappeared from the Tower of London and were never seen again. One (unlikely in my opinion) version has Richard smuggling them to safety in France to save them from the evil Henry. Or maybe, after all, Richard did have them murdered. Maybe he was neither a devil nor a saint, but somewhere in between, as fascinating characters often are.

But what an intriguing story! Great to write a historical novel about it! (Sorry, it’s been done. More than once. Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time is well known.) Yet the focus of school history seems to be around the facts that we don’t care about all that much. Or worse. Take the South African case.

"As long as most of us can remember, the South African history taught in our schools has been boring. History, of course, is written by the victors and the apartheid history curriculum was more fiction than fact. And not very good fiction either." – Nick Dall, South African historian and author.

SA History pre 1994 was just about the European settlers ("the good guys") versus the existing black inhabitants ("the bad guys"). Apart from ignoring the rest of the history of the subcontinent, the "lies agreed upon" were dressed up in a variety of ways that ranged from deadly serious propaganda to farcical. An example of the latter is that the picture of Jan van Riebeeck on the Rand notes introduced when SA moved to decimal currency actually shows someone quite different—a contemporary of Jan van Riebeeck deemed to be more currencygenic than the first governor himself!

Bartolomeus Vermuyden
An 18th century Dutchman who never set foot in Africa

"If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten." — Rudyard Kipling

Nick Dall and Matthew Blackburn have recently written a book titled Legends - People who changed South Africa for the better. They try, in part, to meet Kipling’s point by exploring the lives of a number of people who made an impact, or tried to make an impact, on history. One of their characters is "Sailor" Malan. He was both a true war-hero flying-ace and an early campaigner against the developing policy of apartheid, yet Malan has no place in the SA history books past or present.

Malan was born in 1910 to an Afrikaaner family and christened Adolph Gysbert Malan. (One can perhaps guess why his colleagues in the Royal Air Force preferred to use his nickname “Sailor”.) In any case, having started in commercial shipping, Malan joined the RAF in England and trained as a pilot on Spitfires before the war. He led 74 Squadron during the Battle of Britain, and was regarded as one of the RAF’s ace pilots. He finished his fighter career in 1941 as one of the highest scoring pilots to have served wholly with RAF Fighter Command during the Second World War, with a Distinguished Flying Cross as well as a Distinguished Service Order. Not bad for a kid from the small Cape town of Wellington.

Sailor Malan

Torch Commando protest
He returned home to South Africa in 1946 and started sheep farming. But when the right wing National Party was voted into power and started to outline its Apartheid agenda, he found a new role. Malan joined a liberal protest movement opposed to the new rulers’ policies calling itself the Torch Commando. Because of his public recognition as a war hero, he agreed to be its president. Despite its rather belligerent name, the Torch Commando engaged in peaceful protest, appearing en masse outside government buildings in the evening carrying burning torches. At its peak, the movement had around 250,000 members, mostly white but with a variety of other races represented.

However, the split between right and left hardened as the years went on with the government moving ever right and the ANC developing its own philosophies and a relationship with the communist party. The middle ground became all but abandoned.

Malan died of Parkinson's disease in 1963. The Apartheid government refused to allow him a military funeral and forbade military personnel attending to wear uniforms. 

The ANC regarded him as just another white liberal unable to cross the racial divide.

Once more the victors wrote (or, in this case, didn’t write) the history.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023



In my film reviews, I start with the benchmark of five stars and then deduct half or one point if the film falls short in any of the following categories:
· Storyline
· Screenplay
· Acting
· Direction
· Character Arcs

The Night Manager Movie Review: A Must-Watch UK Thriller on Britbox & Amazon Prime Video

Actors Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Debicki in THE NIGHT MANAGER with helicopters in the sky background

"The Night Manager" is a critically acclaimed six-part UK series, available for streaming on both Britbox and Amazon Prime Video. Premiering in 2016, this masterpiece (different from its 2023 Indian counterpart of the same name) is an adaptation of the novel by renowned author John le Carré.
Cast Highlights:

  • Hugh Laurie (famously known from House) brilliantly portrays the menacing Richard Roper.
  • Tom Hiddleston takes on the role of the elusive Jonathan Pine.
  • Olivia Colman (recognized as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown) plays Angela Burr with a depth only she could bring.
  • Elizabeth Debicki (who mesmerized us as Princess Diana in The Crown) embodies the enigmatic Jed Marshall.

Plot Overview: Jonathan Pine, a war veteran turned night manager of a plush hotel in Cairo, gets entangled in the treacherous world of illegal arms sales. Angela Burr, heading a Foreign Office task force, recruits him to delve deep into the operations of the formidable arms dealer, Richard Roper.
The cast delivers a stellar performance across the board. Hugh Laurie's depiction of Roper, with his sharp British accent, magnifies his character's malevolence. Awaiting Roper's fate, the viewers are held in suspense throughout. Olivia Colman, a paragon of acting, conveys profound emotions with the simplest gestures. The subtleties in the performances of Debicki and Hiddleston, laden with concealed emotions and secrets, keep the audience on tenterhooks, hoping their truths remain hidden from the malevolent characters surrounding them.
Ratings & Review:

  • Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
  • Storyline: A compelling narrative that ensures edge-of-your-seat tension.
  • Screenplay (by David Farr): An embodiment of sublime writing.
  • Acting: Undoubtedly top-tier, with each actor bringing their A-game.
  • Direction: Executed with finesse, making it truly superb.
  • Character arcs: Consistent and credible, adding depth to the narrative.

Bottom line: "The Night Manager" isn't just a series; it's an experience. If you're looking for a thrilling UK series on Britbox or Amazon Prime Video, you can't afford to miss this.

Next: The Burial, with Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones, based on a true story