Friday, 1 May 2020

Get That Job by Christine Reidhead - Review



One of the many blessings of being an adolescent is that adult pursuits such as finding a job and paying one's way in the world lie too far into the future to be at all pressing.

But the fact remained in that heady summer of 1976 that I was but a few years from having to make that leap into whole new world of enforced labour - getting up in the morning, donning my jacket and tie and setting off on my four-mile trek to the office (didn't like the smoky buses) for which I would be rewarded the princely sum of £47.17, after deductions, at the end of each week.

Before any job, of course, comes the interview. First time around, I had four of them, and somehow managed to pass all four. But I'm sure it was more by luck than judgment. Had I had the benefit of this excellent book at the time, I’ve no doubt the process would have been a whole lot easier.

POWER-PACK OF INFORMATION

Its modest tally of 75 pages belies the wealth of experience and advice that is contained in this power-pack of information. Somehow within that sparse expanse of wordage everything the interviewee will ever need to know is captured, legibly and concisely, in a broadly chronological guide of what to say and what not to say, what to do and what not to do, what to wear and not to wear when the time comes to throw yourself at the mercy of the person who may be providing your beer tokens for the foreseeable.

Of course there are elements of the process which postdate my own early job-seeking experiences. The use of LinkedIn as a business tool, and the perils of posting the wrong things on Facebook whilst waiting for news of how the interview went, would have been alien concepts to me. But for most of it I was left pleasantly surprised by how little had changed since those long-gone days.

And with my later employer's hat on, I can confirm the wisdom of the advice and information which the author conveys. She clearly has first-hand knowledge of her subject and some mastery of the procedures involved. As well as, quite evidently, an equal mastery of the art of writing enjoyable prose.

I found Get That Job a highly productive and informative read. If you're looking for work, or expect to be in the future, it's a few pounds very well spent.

Get That Job by Christine Reidhead is available from Amazon in paperback, ebook and audiobook formats.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Get the Ebook Free of Charge - Offer Closes Tuesday 28th April 2020

For a limited time only The Best Year Of Our Lives is available in ebook format completely free of charge.

Simply click here and download the Kindle reader if you don't already have one (that's free too!). Then click where it says "£0.00 to buy" and follow the instructions to get the book.

There no catch, but if you enjoy the read please take a few moments to write me a review on the site.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

The Goodies: Insane '70s Slapstick and a Little Cameo - Tim Brooke-Taylor (1940-2020)



The 1970s was a golden age of innovative and unique, if somewhat dated, situation comedy. But amid all the sometimes predictable sitcoms and the cringe-makingly politically incorrect stand-up there were two comedic institutions which stood so aloof amongst their peers that they defined genres all of their own. One was the team from Monty Python's Flying Circus, the other was The Goodies.

At the height of their popularity in the first half of the decade, the zany trio that was Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor immersed themselves in way-out, sometimes surreal story lines and purposely absurd low-budget props to create a cult act which we teenagers waited eagerly each week to watch on our clunky television sets, some of us still coming to terms with the demise of monochrome. The trio plied their wacky trade under their given names, but each was an exaggerated stereotype in his own right which didn't always reflect the real personality behind the screen image. So whilst Garden, a real-life doctor, was not wholly out of character as the bespectacled mad scientist that he played, nor environmentalist Oddie as the left-leaning hippy type, Brooke-Taylor's ultra-patriotic, Union Jack waistcoat-wearing royalist was not a particularly accurate representation of his real self. "I had the double-barrelled name so I was always going to play the Tory," he once reflected.

APARTHEIGHT

The Goodies were an institution which quite personified the age. No theme was too controversial to make light of (one episode of the show was simply entitled "South Africa" and considered life under a regime in which people were discriminated against for being short under a system known as "Apartheight", much to the chagrin of the diminutive Oddie), nor too off-the-wall. Particularly memorable episodes included the epochal The Goodies and the Beanstalk, and Kitten Kong in which a fluffy white kitten named Twinkle is accidentally infused with a growth potion devised by Garden and subsequently runs amok around London.

No episode of The Goodies though was complete without the interval, during which "adverts" parodying real advertisements of the day featured. Of course, it was all a part of the show.

But their lovably insatiable desire for dominance of the seventies' comedy scene meant The Goodies were never going to be entirely satisfied with a weekly television slot. So it was perhaps inevitable that they would launch their unique act into the music charts, where they would record not one but several hit songs including Father Christmas Do Not Touch Me, Black Pudding Bertha and, most famously of all, The Funky Gibbon. During one of their many appearances on Top Of The Pops they performed a short, blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo for David Essex as he sang his number one hit Gonna Make You a Star.

LONG AND VARIED CAREER

Although unsurprisingly remembered more than anything else for his work with The Goodies, Brooke-Taylor enjoyed a long and varied career in the entertainment business. He worked with such notables as John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Rowan Atkinson, and was a regular participant over forty years in the radio show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. In 2011 he was awarded the OBE.

Tragically he died on 12th April 2020 aged 79 of complications from COVID-19, the nightmare virus which holds the world captive as I write. He is survived by his wife Christine and their two sons Ben and Edward.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Guest Posts Welcome

I am always grateful for on-topic contributions from visitors to this blog.

Do you have an interesting story to tell relating to 1976? Some memories from school perhaps, from your neighbourhood, or just some thoughts in general about the fashions, the music scene, television programmes or popular culture?

Please send me a message at info@phil-andrews.co.uk and we can discuss featuring it as a stand-alone blog story. I will be happy to include a byline and a discreet link back to your own blog or website, just so long as it isn't spammy.

This is your resource, please feel free to use it as well as to read it.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

The Challenge of Casting Adolescence for an Adult Readership

It was at first slightly deflating when recently I received, for the first time since The Best Year Of Our Lives was published two and a half years ago, a negative review on Amazon.

Awarding me one star, the reviewer, who claimed that he was personally familiar with me (?), conceded that he did like the relatability of the setting and of some of the characters, but described the novel itself as "6th former literature". You can't please everyone, I guess.

NOT PRECIOUS

It would be absurd for me to become precious over one solitary critic. Looking on the bright side, the twenty 5* and 4* reviews that the book had hitherto gathered were so collectively positive that there was a danger its ratings were giving off an impression of having been solicited. At least now the range of ratings does look a touch more authentic.

But the latest reviewer has highlighted a challenge which I've already flagged up in at least one previous article, that being how to compile a manuscript heavily dependent upon dialogue between characters who are in their adolescence in a way which will retain the interest of readers who are adults, a good many of them in mature years.

AN ADOLESCENCE OF TONE

The answer of course is that a balance has to be struck. In essence I have tried to keep the dialogue as authentic and in character as possible, whilst pursuing an adult narrative.

But then an adult narrative cannot be unsympathetic to the setting of the book, and as such there is inevitably an adolescence of tone, which is certain to irritate some.

I am genuinely grateful to my negative reviewer for giving me an opportunity to highlight this dilemma once again. I always say that if C.S. Lewis can make great literature out of a talking lion then treating the pubescent banter of a band of eleven- to fifteen-year-olds with a little more seriousness than a minority of readers may feel it truly deserves surely resides within the bounds of literary credulity.

But it won't be for everyone, and it is strangely sobering to be reminded of that fact every once in a while.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

A Farewell to a King - Neil Peart (1952-2020)



Everyone who is at the top of their game these days is referred to as a king or queen of something or other. In the case of Neil Peart, whose sad passing last week confirmed the end of the Rush era, his kingdom was a land where percussive perfection met insightful lyricism of a quality that placed him alongside the very bardest of the bards who have graced popular music in recent decades.

When Peart auditioned to join the Canadian power trio in July 1974, his future bandmates were at first underwhelmed. Bass player Geddy Lee put it thus: "He drove up in this little sports car, drums hanging out of every corner. He comes in, this big goofy guy with a small drum kit with 18-inch bass drums. Alex [Lifeson] and I were chuckling - we thought he was a hick from the country."

A short demonstration later, the tone had changed somewhat: "And then he sat down behind his kit and pummelled the drums, and us. I'd never heard a drummer like, someone with that power and dexterity. As far as I was concerned, he was hired from the minute he started playing".

Aside from being an accomplished drummer, Peart revealed himself to be an astonishingly gifted songwriter. For Lee and Lifeson, neither of whom had much interest in writing lyrics, that clinched the deal.

Thus began the Rush experience, a unique amalgam of prog, hard rock and heavy metal laced with complex signatures and unorthodox chord structures, and overlain with intellectual and thought-provoking lyrical ventures into such eclectic themes as science fiction, philosophy and spirituality.

1976 AND 2112

If any work could be said to define the Peart sound it was the concept album 2112. Like so many defining events in the story of rock and pop it was, perhaps inevitably, released in that cultural crossroads that was 1976. The fourth album recorded by Rush, 2112 became especially known for its epic, seven-part, twenty-minute anthem of the same name which occupied the whole of the first side of the record. Set in that far-off year in the mythical land of Megadon, one of the Solar Federation of planets where the Elder Race had been defeated in battle by the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx, the unnamed subject of the story finds amongst the rubble of that conflagration a guitar, which he presents to the Priests expecting them to be grateful. Instead, to his horror, they grind it underfoot and tell him to forget he ever encountered this "toy that helped destroy the Elder Race of Man". Distraught, he returns home and takes his own life, not wanting to continue his dreary existence as a subject of the Priests, whose exaggerated collectivist zeal leads them to reject any notion of culture or individual creativity. But there is some good news - for the world, if not for him - when the Elder Race returns to resume control of the Solar Federation at the end of the story.

I had never heard of Rush, let alone 2112, when I was a spindly fourteen-year-old at the time of its release. It was to be quite a few years before I would become familiar with this symphonic tour de force, and yet the serendipity of its alignment with the year 1976 and all the perfection that surrounded it was not lost on me when I did.

POLITICAL BEARPIT

Among the cover notes of this incredible concept album, discreet though by no means hidden, was Peart's dedication of it to "the genius of Ayn Rand" - the controversial Russian-American objectivist philosopher. In the political bearpit that was the mid to late 1970s, it's not difficult to see how Rush in general and Peart in particular came to be regarded with extreme caution by the leftish consensus which largely prevailed around the music scene during that time.

But Peart, whilst adamant that he had nothing to apologise for, was quick to point out that although he was influenced by Rand's thinking he was by no means uncritical of it. "I am nobody’s disciple," he told reporters at the time. Later he was to describe himself as a "left-leaning libertarian", taking pains to place his earlier interest in Rand into some perspective.

Meanwhile for most of us, 2112 was about more or less whatever we wanted it to be. The struggle of good against evil, the oppressed against the oppressor, creativity against bland consumerism. It was philosophy, rather than politics. Certainly the socialist comedian Ben Elton didn't need to alter the storyline all that much to imbue it with a progressive message for his hit musical We Will Rock You some years later.

A PRIVATE MAN

Peart was reportedly an intensely private man, choosing to travel between gigs alone rather than in the company of his band and crew, covering huge distances on his motorcycle, reflecting upon life as well as drawing creative inspiration from his environment.

He authored seven non-fiction books, including the reflective Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, written during a period of what was to prove temporary retirement following the tragic deaths of both his nineteen-year-old-daughter and, shortly afterwards, his first wife.

EXIT THE WARRIOR

He retired for good towards the end of 2015, his tendinitis and shoulder pain making it impossible to continue playing the drums, especially bearing in mind the force and stamina with which Peart famously plied his trade. The following year he was diagnosed with brain cancer, from which he sadly died on 7th January 2020. He is survived by his second wife, their daughter, his three siblings and both his parents.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Operation Thunderbolt, the Raid on Entebbe - 4th July 1976




Terrorist outrages were as much a thing in the 1970s as they are today, but the protagonists and their causes were often different and their method, if crude, was in many respects more audacious and daring. To some extent this was down to the fact that surveillance methods were less well developed and thus it was easier for hijackers and suchlike to gain the initial advantage, exploiting the element of surprise. Nevertheless, there were times when nation states who were the victims of such attacks resolved to suppress them ruthlessly, often resulting in a grisly end for the perpetrators and their accomplices. Seldom has this been more demonstrably the case than in the events which culminated in the Raid on Entebbe, which coincidentally took place on the bicentenary of the ratification of America's Declaration of Independence.

HIJACK

The story began on June 27th when an Air France Airbus A300 (F-BVGG, for the plane spotters) carrying twelve crew members and 248 passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv to Paris was boarded by four hijackers during a stopover in Athens and diverted under duress via Benghazi in Libya to Entebbe in Uganda. The operation was a joint one by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the German Revolutionary Cells, and was put into action with the intention of securing the release of 53 Palestinian and pro-Palestinian militants who were being held in various locations around the Western world, but principally in Israel.

Uganda in 1976 of course lived under the tyrannical rule of the despot Idi Amin or, to give him his full title, His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, King of Scotland, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular. Amin had earlier served with distinction in the British Colonial Army and had risen through the military ranks from being a lowly cook, through lieutenant and major, to becoming, post independence, Supreme Commander of the Ugandan Armed Forces. After having to come to power through a coup he had originally aligned himself with the Western powers, but had gradually drifted into the political orbit of Libya's Colonel Gaddafi and also those of the Soviet Union and East Germany.

UNWITTING CARGO

There are different and in some cases competing accounts of how Amin came to be afforded the dubious pleasure of hosting four hijackers, later to be joined by others, and their unwitting cargo of 260 prisoners. But to Entebbe they came, and a disused former airport terminal was made available to the hijackers for the purpose of housing their captives. Israeli and other Jewish passengers were then separated from non-Jews, and the latter were in due course released, leaving some 94 passengers under guard at Entebbe airport along with the 12 crew members who had refused to leave.

A deadline of July 1st was given, whereafter passengers would begin to be executed if the hijackers' demands were not met. Meanwhile Israeli political and military leaders pondered the various alternatives available to them through which this awful situation might be resolved. Everything was considered, from negotiation to acceding to the terrorists' demands to military intervention. No option was ruled immediately in or out, but the pros and cons considered carefully. Needless to say there were differences of opinion, and arguments aplenty. Eventually they persuaded Amin to use his influence to negotiate an extension of the deadline with the hijackers, which suited him as it enabled him to fulfil a prior engagement by flying to Mauritius to hand over the Chairmanship of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Crucially, this bought Israeli planners three extra days to perfect plans for a military operation.

NO DIPLOMATIC SOLUTION

The subsequent release of formerly classified documents has shown that attempts to reach a diplomatic solution were made through the offices both of Anwar Sadat, then President of Egypt, and (through third parties) of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Both came to nothing. Running in parallel to this was the mooting of a plan to drop Israeli naval commandos into Lake Victoria, which was quickly aborted due to the danger from crocodiles.

A full-scale airlift of hostages from Uganda across several jurisdictions between that country and Israel presented formidable logistical obstacles, but had increasingly begun to look like the only viable solution if the stalemate was to be broken and the lives of the captives spared. There appeared to be no reason to assume that the hijackers would not carry out their threat. The Lockheed C130 Hercules transport planes which were needed to fulfil the mission would have to be refuelled en route, and Israel lacked the capacity to perform this operation mid-air. Eventually, and after much initial resistance, Kenya was persuaded to allow them to use Jomo Kenyatta Airport for this vital function.

Intelligence on the location was gathered from some imaginative sources. The disused terminal had originally been built by an Israeli construction company, who were able to provide information on the layout. Unknown to the hijackers, one of the "non-Jews" they had released had in fact been an Israeli military officer with an unusual recollection for detail, who imparted his knowledge of the set-up within the terminal building with astonishing accuracy. Amongst other information he was able to impart related to which terrorists carried which weapons, and whereabouts on their persons. Other freed passengers volunteered further observations, enabling a really detailed picture to be constructed.

THE RAID

On July 3rd the raiding party set off from Sharm el-Sheikh, on Sinai, now part of Egypt but then under Israeli occupation. Four Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Hercules transport aircraft containing around 100 troops and other personnel joined by two Boeing 707s offering logistical support flew low over the Red Sea to avoid detection from neighbouring Arab forces, who may have exposed the operation or even engaged the aircraft. After refuelling the first Hercules landed at Entebbe shortly before midnight. A black Mercedes limousine and a number of black Land Rovers raced towards the terminal building. The fleet was configured to imitate Amin's presidential vehicle and its security detail, but one guard was aware that the dictator had recently traded his black Merc in for a white one and ordered it to stop. He and other sentries were shot but the Israeli assault team which was crammed into the various vehicles was forced to head for the terminal building at speed, fearing that its cover had been blown. As it happens the furore had gone unnoticed by the terrorists.

When they reached the terminal the assault team raced in and took the captors by surprise. A brief fire-fight ensued in which all the hijackers were killed. Sadly three hostages also lost their lives and a few were injured in the crossfire. Meanwhile the three remaining C130s had touched down at the airport.

Outside the building the remaining Israeli commandos set about destroying Ugandan fighter aircraft on the ground to prevent them from pursuing the Hercs once they were airborne. They were engaged by Ugandan soldiers and there was a battle in which 45 of the troops were killed, as well as one Israeli commander. The officer was Yonni Netanyahu, whose brother Benjamin would many years later become Prime Minister of Israel.

RESCUED

When the C130s finally took off for Israel, they carried 102 rescued hostages bound for safety. Three had lost their lives during the battle. One more, an elderly lady by the name of Mrs. Dora Bloch, had been taken ill at the airport and driven to a local hospital before the arrival of the rescuing party. Reports suggest she was being well looked after prior to the raid, but in its wake she was tragically murdered upon an angry Amin's insistence. A Ugandan doctor who objected was killed also.

Most commentators tend to the view that Operation Thunderbolt, notwithstanding the probably unlawful violation of another country's sovereign territory (and the destruction on the ground of a quarter of its air force), saved a great number of lives. Four innocent civilians, a brave Ugandan doctor, an Israeli commander and seven hijackers were dead. And future hijackers were served notice that such actions could well lead to consequences quite different to those intended.

Many films were made shortly afterwards about the rescue mission, the most popular being Victory at Entebbe and Raid On Entebbe. Idi Amin continued his reign of terror in Uganda until being deposed in a coup in 1979 after an attempt to invade neighbouring Tanzania backfired spectacularly and ended with his own country being occupied by Tanzanian troops. He lived in exile in Saudi Arabia until his death from kidney failure in 2003.