BOOK REVIEW: ‘Indoor Wildlife: Revealing the Creatures Inside Your Home’

100. INDOOR WILDLIFE

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Indoor Wildlife: Revealing the Creatures Inside Your Home

Author: Gerald E. Cheshire

No. of Pages: 85

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 6

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In his Introduction to this volume, the author states that it ‘…Examines the environments inside our homes that offer sanctuary and somewhere to live for many animals and a few plants [that] find our homes suitable of habitation …’ It is an excellent precis of what is to follow, but as will be seen (for this reviewer at least), draws a very long bow.

The book opens with the aforementioned Introduction. Within this, the author details the many creature-desirable environments that the average domestic dwelling has to offer. He also notes that industrial and rural locations can, in many instances, offer similar possibilities to whichever organism cares to take advantage (‘exploit’) what is on offer.  The five unnumbered Sections (analogous to Chapters) that comprise the main part of the volume then follow, with each Section being devoted to s particular type of organism. Surprisingly, given the book’s title, these range from mammals to moulds, bacteria and even viruses (the ‘Very long bow’, previously alluded-to), these latter appearing under the broad classification of Flora. Regrettably, within each Section, the format and information provided follows no uniform pattern, and could at best be described as being ‘muddled’. The Section on Mammals (for example) carries no introductory subsection relating to its subject, while that of the Section titled Birds does-so, as do those on Invertebrates and Flora. This lack of uniformity is, at minimum, disconcerting. Subsections within each Section are used to describe a specific organism, but yet again, this practice is haphazard and seemingly random, the section Birds containing little more than single-sentence captioned photographs, while that of Flies (a subsection within the Invertebrates section) receives wide and detailed coverage. There are numerous, similar, examples. Regrettably, this ‘bias’, leaves the very distinct impression that the author’s primary interest (and this volume’s focus) concerns very small lifeforms of all varieties to the exclusion of almost everything else. Such text as is provided is supported in many instances by high quality colour photographs some sourced, some not, but again, this support does not extend to every section, with Simple Plants (a subsection of Flora) receiving no image, while Wood Rots (within the same section) has been the recipient of two. The existence of such images is not mentioned on the Contents page. No Index is provided, and the existence of the subsections within each larger Section is also not alluded to on the Contents page, a situation which this reviewer believes promotes unnecessary searching.

This reviewer found this volume frustrating. He expected to find a book containing detailed, image-supported descriptions of the creatures which inhabit the average domestic dwelling, and to a certain extent these criteria were met. He did not however expect to find descriptions of Environmental Viruses and Moulds , Pathogenic Moulds or Timber Rots as part of the narrative, nor a very evident bias towards ‘creepy-crawlies’, this latter to the exclusion of larger life-forms.  For him, the difference in coverage between Birds and Insects was very evident, emphasised by the volume’s previously-mentioned ‘Muddled’ format. The absence of an Index and the consequent need to make numerous (and at times fruitless) searches for a specific organism did not help.

So what to make of the result?

The previous comments notwithstanding, this volume is informative and well-illustrated, with the qualification that it leans heavily towards insects and their ilk. Readers seeking information about the very small creatures, moulds and viruses that co-exist with them within in their domestic environments are likely to find this book of considerable interest and very informative. However, readers seeking similar information about the avian lifeforms they encounter around their dwellings may be disappointed; the coverage of the latter being minimal.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent: I have given this volume a 6.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Indoor Wildlife: Revealing the Creatures Inside Your Home’

BOOK REVIEW ‘A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-2017: The Warriors’ Repose’

 

99.CHELSEA PENSIONERS

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-2017: The Warriors’ Repose

Author: Stephen Wynn, Tanya Wynn

Total Number of Pages: 230

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent):  7

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In a note on this volume’s dustjacket, the authors state that that the book ‘…Looks at the hospital’s beginnings…goes on to look at some of the characters who have been Pensioners at the hospital over the centuries as well as some of the individuals who have been buried in the hospital’s grounds. There is also an in depth look at the hospital’s governors [and] a look in some detail at a few of those who currently live and work in the hospital’. It is an excellent precis’.

The book opens with the fourth verse of Laurence Binyon’s well-known poem For the Fallen; the verse which begins: They shall not grow old… It is an appropriate Dedication. The Title and Contents pages follow in succession. An Introduction is next; while providing background to the book, it also summarises its content.  The 14 Chapters which comprise the bulk of the volume now appear. Chapters 1-4 introduce the reader to both the hospital itself and to noteworthy individuals and events which are associated with it. They may best be described as being the ‘Historical’ section of the volume. Where appropriate, subheadings within each Chapter detail both specific events and individuals. Chapters 5-to 12 may best be described as being ‘People’-focussed, the majority of their content being in the nature of biographical details for named individuals. Within this bloc, and where appropriate, specific individuals have been allocated a Chapter to themselves, with Baroness Margaret Thatcher (Chapter 6 Margaret Thatcher) being one of several individuals accorded this honour. The Royal Hospital Chelsea is a partly British Government-funded institution and Chapter 13 (Hansard Discussions) records the Hospital-related discussions which have occurred in the House of Commons since 1807. Such debates are recorded verbatim in Hansard (the official record of such discussions), with those records forming the basis of entries within the Chapter. Chapter 14 (Correspondence) contains both text and photographic copies of ‘…A few post cards and a letter connected to the Royal Hospital…’ The title is self-explanatory. A section titled Conclusion follows. This both summarises the volume and permits the authors to express their opinions on the institution’s present and possible future.  A biographical section titled About the Author follows. Again, its title is self-explanatory. Curiously, a 15-entry Subsection occurs within that section. Titled Sources, it is bibliographic in nature and function. A four-page Index completes the volume. It is not however the book’s final printed page, this honour being accorded to a final (albeit unnumbered) page placed behind page 229 on which  there is an advertisement for Pen and Sword-published titles which can be ordered from both the author and the Publisher. The volume contains 53 largely-unsourced monochrome images, defined as Figures. These are numbered sequentially and informatively captioned. Unsurprisingly, they are largely people-focussed but also include other items relevant to the narrative. For unknown reasons, the last image (on page 221) is not numbered. Although it would have helped readers to precisely-locate the Royal Hospital Chelsea the volume contains no Map.

Although this volume is well-written, for this reviewer it was badly let down by its Index, A random search within the Index for names and locations occurring within the volume found numerous examples where such names were omitted. These includes such entries as that for Michael Hurley (pages 204-205), and Patrick Johnson (page 146), while John Price, despite being the subject of a substantial entry on pages 202 and 203 was also absent from the Index. It was also noted that where some subjects were accorded an Index entry, these were incomplete; the Wren Chapel being but one such example: Although carrying Index entries for pages 18 and 20, that on page 86 was omitted. As other, similar, examples of the above were also found, the authority and veracity of the Index inevitably suffered, especially as the ommissions appear to be very numerous. There is no way to know the extent of the problem. The volume also contains numerous unsourced Quotes. In the absence of supporting citations, it is possible to suggest that these are imagined; there again being no way to know otherwise with certainty. The standard of proofreading was also disappointing, with several examples of incorrect entries being noted (page 85; 1918, not 2018), together with spelling mistakes. It was also noted that book titles, where appearing within the text, were not accorded acknowledgment through either a Footnote or an Endnote.

Although for this reviewer at least, it was let down by the previously-mentioned ‘difficulties’, it is very evident that this volume is a labour of love. In the absence of any other contemporary volumes on the Royal Hospital Chelsea, it is likely to become a standard work of reference for its subject. On that basis it may appeal to readers of all persuasions with an interest in British military history, while military historians with a similar interest may also find it worthy of their attention. Health and social historians and researchers may also find it worthy of perusal.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7.

It should have been much higher.

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BOOK REVIEW ‘A History of the Royal Hospital Chelsea 1682-2017: The Warriors’ Repose’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations’

98. SUBMARINES

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations

Author: Erminio Bagnasco

No. of Pages: 288

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8 ¾

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In what is effectively an introduction to what is to follow, the author states that ‘This book deals with thee submarines of the navies engaged in the Second World War and includes those boats or classes which had been laid down, but which never entered service, or which had not been completed until after hostilities had ceased’. As a summary it is clear and concise.

This volume was originally published in Italy in 1977, a detail which has a bearing on the way that it is laid out. It opens with a multi-columned Contents page, which is in turn followed by a multi-functional section titled Data Key / Abbreviations/ Bibliography. This clarifies the volume’s purpose and contains both a Glossary and a list of the abbreviations used throughout the book. Although what is described as a Bibliography also appears within this section, this is a somewhat-loose term to classify what a note accompanying it describes as a ‘…List of books [what] may be of value to the reader who wishes to pursue specific subjects further’ rather than a list of titles and sources used when writing the book. By way of explanation the same note states that ‘In the original Italian edition of this book the author did not furnish a bibliography’. A Preface follows. This elaborates on the statement made at the start of this review, with the author further stating that he has ‘…Endeavoured to furnish the reader with…enough material to compare the technical and operational histories of all the submarines that took part in the war’. It is an ambitious aim. The book’s Introduction is next. While primarily a highly-detailed history of both submarines and submarine warfare from the time the craft was invented, to the end of World War II, a sub-section within it details post World War 2 developments in both submarines and submerged warfare. The main part of the volume follows.  This is arranged alphabetically, and consists of eight named ‘Sections’ (somewhat analogous to ‘Chapters’) of varying size, each devoted to submarine users. Seven of the Sections are devoted to ‘major’ submarine users with the title of the final section (The Lesser Powers) being self-explanatory. According to the author each Section / Chapter’ is divided in turn subdivided into two sections. ‘The first treats of naval policy, preparations for undersea warfare, types of wartime operations undertaken and the characteristics’. The second section…gives a detailed description of the various classes of submarines…lists the names of the boats, description, principal technical characteristics, a brief history of their wartime careers and the fate of each member of the class’. It is an excellent precis. In most (but not all) instances, at least one photograph of the class under discussion is provided. Where appropriate, a profile drawing of the vessel may also (but not always) be provided; in some instances these being expanded to a three-view format. While these are not to a constant scale, the scale to which they are drawn appears alongside the individual drawing. Where there are significant differences between individual vessels within the class, smaller ‘thumbnail’ illustrations may also appear together with any modifications undergone by the specific vessel. Typically, these may include alterations made to armament, or structures. In addition to the previously-mentioned specifications etc., additional information is provided through the use of tables, technical diagrams, plans, graphs, charts and ‘detail’ photographs of equipment. The volume contains numerous unsourced photographs of individual submarines. Although all are captioned, the amount of information presented varies in quantity from image to image. Although submarines operated in a wide range of areas during World War II, no Maps are provided to indicate where these might have been.  An Index placed at the rear of the book is its last section. This lists all vessels mentioned within the volume.

For this reviewer this volume was let down by the very narrow focus of its Index. As previously-noted this section ostensibly lists all the vessels that appear within this book. In fact it doesn’t, and only lists the location of the vessel’s Class / Specifications entry, not the locations of relevant text or photographs outside that section. To use the French submarine Surcouf as but one example of this practice, that vessel’s Index entry indicates it appears on page 53; and, there is indeed an entry and technical specification for Surcouf on that page. That there are in fact other entries for that vessel on pages 42, 43, 54 and 55 is not however mentioned. As this was but one of several examples noted while reviewing this volume, this practice would seem to be widespread. In addition, the section contains no references to individuals, theatres of operation or geographical locations; ommissions which serve to limit its usefulness. Should a reader seek an individual submarine they will find at least a reference to it. However, should they wish to know why it was constructed, who commanded it, where it served or what it did, they will search the Index in vain. This is unfortunate, as it considerably reduces the volume’s usefulness and value as a research tool, removing it from the ‘Work of Standard Reference’ category as a result.

There is no doubt that this volume is comprehensive in its coverage of its subject, and, despite the ‘limitations’ listed above,  is, indeed, encyclopaedic in its coverage. On that basis it is likely to have wide appeal to readers interested in submarines, submarine warfare and general ‘things naval’. Military historians interested in submarine operations may find it of use, while warship modellers and war-gamers with an interest in submarines may find it to be a useful reference source.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this volume an 8 ¾.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Submarines of World War Two: Design, Development and Operations’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century’

97. ALL THINGS GEORGIAN

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title: All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century

Authors: Joanne Major, Sarah Murden

Total Number of Pages: 170

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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When describing the contents of this volume, its Dustjacket notes that it is a ‘…Collection of twenty-five true tales‘…’In roughly chronological order, covering the reign of the four Georges, 1714-1830 and set within the framework of the main events of the era’. It also notes that within it, the reader will ‘Meet actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals…’ It is an accurate summary of what follows.

Within the book itself, an Acknowledgments section is placed immediately after the Contents page. As would be expected, it thanks those individuals and organisations who assisted the authors in the preparation of the volume. This is in turn followed by an Introduction. Within this, two sub-sections provide both historical background to the era and of the Hanoverian royal dynasty which so-dominated the United Kingdom during the time under discussion. A section titled Timeline of Events Relevant to the Long Eighteenth Century follows; its title is self-explanatory. The 25 Chapters which form the main part of the work now appear. As previously-noted these comprise 25 stories relating to the activities of various notorious and well-known individuals within Eighteenth Century Britain and Europe. It should be noted that of the 24 tales presented (Chapter 25 being a summary of the era) 19 could be described as ‘Female focussed’. The reasons for this are unknown. A section titled Notes and Sources follows Chapter 25. As indicated by its title, it is equivalent to a Bibliography. The final section of the volume is an oddity, and consists of three pages listing books written by the authors, together with accompanying reviews. The section is unashamedly self-promotional and whether it is appropriate for the volume is something that only the reader can decide. There is no Index. The volume is well illustrated with both monochrome and colour images including plans and other images relevant to the narrative. Where possible the individual being discussed within each Chapter, is also depicted. However, a lack of such images has meant that at times these are of the ‘supporting cast’ to the tale. Although the images are certainly captioned and carry the appropriate citations, for a large number, the captions are single-sentence in format and can best be described as being ‘adequate’. It should be noted that, in several instances, although there was no ‘cross-referencing’ between the two sections, (text and image) it appeared that the reader was expected to associate the image with the text they were reading. The volume contains numerous Quotes. However, these do not carry supporting citations and in the absence of the latter, the authenticity of said Quotes must inevitably be questioned, together with their value as a research tool.  The volume contains one Map. This is an outline of the British Isles, and carries the names of various locations that are apparently mentioned within the volume. It does not however have a formal title, leaving the reader to guess at its function and usefulness, while its existence does not rate a mention on the Contents page.

As previously-noted, the volume has several ‘mechanical’ shortcomings, including the lack of an Index, unsupported Quotes, an untitled Map and Captions which are, at best, ‘adequate’. These are not unexpected. However, when requesting this volume for review purposes, and on the basis of its title (All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century) this reviewer expected to find a social history of the period. To a limited degree that is what he received, with the qualification that such information was an adjunct to the narrative rather than its focus. He did not however expect to meet the ‘… Actresses, whores and high-born ladies, politicians, inventors, royalty and criminals’ previously mentioned, to the extent that the endless repletion of the activities of such individuals became monotonous and (eventually) boring. The writing and research was excellent, but the basic topic (humankind’s largely-sexual failings), when repeated over and over again, deprived the volume whatever literary charm it might have held.

Undoubtedly this volume will appeal to those with an interest of any kind in the lifestyles of the Eighteenth Century’s rich and famous. Social historians might also find it useful, while readers with an interest in the art and architecture of the era may also find it worthy of their perusal.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this book a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘All Things Georgian: Tales from the Long Eighteenth Century’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Vietnam’s Final Air Campaign: Operation Linebacker I & II May-December 1972’

96. OPERATION LINEBACKER VIETNAM WAR

Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  Vietnam’s Final Air Campaign: Operation Linebacker I & II May-December 1972

Author: Stephen Emerson

Total Number of Pages: 128

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent):

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The American air operations known collectively as Linebacker I and II occurred in 1972, during the Vietnam War and were an 11-day-long aerial bombing campaign intended to force the North Vietnamese to seriously-negotiate a formal peace settlement between the United States of America and North Vietnam and so bring to an end the aforementioned war. In that it was successful, and the machinations and military activities which occurred immediately-prior-to and during the operations, form the subject of this very readable volume.

The book opens with the expected Contents page which, in addition to the usual chapter headings etc., also contains a list of the Maps the book contains; a Chart (U.S. Troop Levels 1964-1973), a Diagram (Typical Linebacker Force Composition) and a Table (U.S. Air Losses for Linebacker II, December 18-28, 1972). It is an ‘Admirable’ inclusion and saves a lot of time in respect of searching. A two-page Glossary follows. This clarifies the military terminology used throughout the book and is in turn followed by an Acknowledgements section within which the author, while thanking those who helped with information, also pays tribute to ‘…All the men who flew in or supported Operation Linebacker I and II in 1972’; it is a nice touch. The seven Sections (analogous to Chapters, but not named as such) follow. Of these, Sections One to Five provide the necessary background to what is detailed in Chapter Six (Unleashing the Dogs of War), and as such portend and explain what is to come; the activities outlined in Chapter Six being the ultimate focus of the volume Where relevant to the narrative, while equally stories in their own right, sections of text have been placed within boxed areas within the larger ‘chapter’ With Chapter 6 having been the focus of the narrative, an analysis becomes necessary. This is provided by the volume’s last section (Number 7 and titled Post Mortem), the title being self-explanatory. Within each Section, Subsections are used to provide additional information, and, where necessary, Endnotes are used to indicate the existence of additional reference material. The latter are sequential, Section-specific, and numeric in format; the individual citations appearing in a designated Notes section placed after Chapter 7.  A Bibliography follows that section and is in turn followed by the volume’s Index; the book’s last section. The narrative is accompanied by numerous monochrome Images from a variety of sources; some acknowledged, many not. A selection of coloured Images also appears, and is placed in an eight-page section in the centre of the volume.The Images are informatively captioned, but neither the Contents nor Index sections contain reference to their existence. As previously-noted Charts, Diagrams, Tables and Maps appear within the volume and are valuable aide memoirs to the narrative.

While this is an excellent tale and both well-told and written, for this reviewer, it was let down by the ‘little things’; the ‘details’ if you will. Of these the Index was the most problematic, with several randomly-sought locations being denied an Index entry despite being deemed worthy of a mention within the larger narrative.  Although others were also found, Mu Gia Pass (page 24) and the Thai Nguyen rail complex (page 108) will suffice as examples. The appearance of several Quotes without citations was also noted, as were a small number of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

As previously-noted this is a well-written and well-told volume and, despite the previously-referenced ‘little things’, begs fair to become a Standard Reference Work on its subject.  As such it may be of interest to aviation and military historians, while readers seeking clarification as to what who did what and why during the latter days of the Vietnam War, may also find it informative. Due to the large number of aviation-related images military-aviation enthusiasts and aero modellers may also find this book useful in their researches.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Vietnam’s Final Air Campaign: Operation Linebacker I & II May-December 1972’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Adrian Shooter: A Life in Engineering and Railways’

95. ADRIAN SHOOTER 7 1118

Reviewer:  Michael Keith

Title: Adrian Shooter: A Life in Engineering and Railways

Author: Adrian Shooter

No. of Pages: 240

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): 8 ½

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To quote this volume’s Dustjacket, ‘This book is the tale of a small boy from Surrey who had a fascination with anything on wheels and, also, loved to learn about people and what motivated them’. While so-doing ‘He describes his upbringing and…takes the reader on a voyage of discovery into the world of 1960’s engineering before he joined British Railway [sic] in 1970’. The narration of his experiences with that organisation ‘…Presents readers with a whole new picture of what was really going on within British Rail at various levels’. It is an accurate summation of a very readable and interesting volume.

The volume itself consists of nine Chapters. These take the reader from the author’s childhood to approximately 1992 (the exact date is not stated).  As already noted, these detail his experiences in the world of mechanical engineering and within British Rail; the latter during the ‘Transition-era’ when steam was being replaced by both diesel-electric and electric locomotives, and new rolling stock was entering service It was a change of immense proportions and the author’s narrations of his experiences during that time make for always interesting reading. The Chapters are followed by a single-page Index. The volume contains numerous monochrome and colour photographs and newspaper-based images from a variety of sources. These are all relevant to the larger narrative and indicative of the author’s ever-upward progress through the British railways hierarchy. The Contents and Index pages contain no reference to their existence. No Maps are provided, and although numerous acronyms and abbreviations appear throughout the book, there is no master Glossary to provide a quick reference and so jog the reader’s memory

This is a very entertaining book, but this reviewer was disappointed by the person-centric nature of its Index. With but three exceptions (Bletchley TMD, Crewe Works and Derby Loco Works) the focus of the Index is entirely on individuals that appear within the volume. Regrettably, even that coverage is, at best, ‘Patchy’, with many of those named within the book being omitted, and in some instances (Beeching, Richard for example, referenced on pages 22 and 68) only given a single Index entry (page 22 in this example). As many railway-enthusiast readers rely on a book’s Index to learn if their favoured locations appear within it and purchase accordingly, by not including such information this volume’s Index has effectively eliminated a potential readership of considerable size. With little interest in searching for a possibly non-existent location, many potential ‘enthusiast’ purchasers will forego that privilege. The volume’s lack of maps only serves to compound the difficulty.

As it gives a ‘Management’ perspective on activities within the British mechanical engineering and railway industries during the 1960’s and ‘70’s, this volume may be of interest to transport and social historians with an interest in that time. The contents of some of the photographs may also be of use to railway modellers and to railway enthusiasts with an interest in British Railways during the same period. As an example as to how things might be done, those involved in Business Management may also find it of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given this book an 8 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Adrian Shooter: A Life in Engineering and Railways’

AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT!

My fellow blog readers, you will have noticed tat recently there has been little activity on this page.

No doubt some would say, ‘Who cares’, but for those wh DO care, there is a simple explanation: My health!

Unknowingly I have for many years been operating on onl 30% of my heart, a situation which has only recently come to light, and even then only through a series of unusal and seemingly-urelated events.

Suffice to say that as I write this Blog, I am resident in the local district hospital, recovering from a quadrupple (4) heart bypass.

Thanks to the brilliant efforts of the local hospital staff, the amazing support of my incredible wife and children, and the support of numerous marvellous friends, I am well, and recovering by the minute.

AND I WILL RETURN!

Rest assured, blog readers, I will come back; just not immediately.

Thank you.

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AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT!