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: ‘ Hidden Nature: Uncovering the UK’s Wildlife’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith  Rimmer

Title: Hidden Nature: Uncovering the UK’s Wildlife

Author: Isla Hodgson

Total Number of Printed Pages: 192

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7 ½

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In the Forward to this volume, the author notes that ‘…Wildlife is everywhere in Britain, if you just know where to look’, and that she ‘…Decided to embark on a little mission; to write about our under-appreciated wildlife, in the hope that [she] could enthuse others to get passionate about it too’. The result? A ‘…Guide to re-discovering Britain’s hidden wild life’, written in the hope that ‘It inspires you [the reader] to step outside the door and seek out just what the natural world has to offer’. Admirable sentiments indeed.

The volume is arranged in four sections, preceded by a Foreword in which the author relates the circumstances which led to the book being written and why the format used was chosen and a precis of what is to follow. The main part of the volume comprises four sections (analogous to Chapters, but not notated as such). In the author’s opinion these constitute the main habitat types found in the United Kingdom, and comprise coasts, freshwater, inland areas (forests, grasslands, mountains) and urban spaces respectively. Sub-chapters appear within each larger Chapter. These concern specific geographical areas and the creatures found within them while also recording the author’s personal experiences when observing the creatures under discussion.. As a result, the reader is introduced to a variety of wildlife that includes seals, red deer, various types of birds, foxes and garden insects. As noted, the experiences are all personal, and while certainly introducing the reader to the subject, owe more to the ‘What I did on my holidays’ style of writing  rather than serious scientific study.  That detail notwithstanding, the author has included what she describes as ‘…A wee section that details how you [the reader] might find those species or habitats…the best places across the country to catch a sighting [of the creature being described] [and] where applicable how to encourage these animals to your local patch and …how we can help them’. While admirable in sentiment, these ‘Wee sections’ are arranged in a variety of formats with little consistency being evident. A section titled A Final Word  presents and elaborates-on the author’s view that ‘’…The human race are responsible for the rapid increase in [species] extinction rates’ and provides ideas as to how this may be prevented and reversed. It is followed by the volume’s final section; a three-paragraph section titled Thank you, within which all who contributed to it (creatures included) are acknowledged. The volume contains Colour Photographs, Line Drawings and Half-tone Illustrations by the author. Their existence is not mentioned on the Contents page. .Despite discussing various locations around the British Isles, the volume contains no Maps. No Index is provided.

As already noted, this volume contains neither Maps nor Index, details which could be problematic for those readers living outside the United Kingdom seeking information concerning both the wildlife described and their locations within the British Isles. For this reviewer, a General Ordnance Survey Map showing (at minimum) such locations as the Ythan Estuary and the Isle of Canna would have been helpful. The absence of an Index also creates unnecessary problems for those who may not know where the creature they are seeking may be found within the volume. The title (for example|) Garden Birds (a subsection of Section 4), is meaningless if you don’t know if the bird you are observing fits that category, and where, within the volume, is a ‘Common Pipistrelle’ to be found? Without an Index, one cannot know. Whether or not such an omission is important will depend-upon the individual reader. A separate ‘Identification / Recognition’ section containing a brief description and silhouette of the creatures mentioned within the volume, would also have been helpful.

This is an idiosyncratic volume, written by someone who is clearly passionate about her subject. It is likely to appeal to those interested in ‘Conservation’ as a concept, those seeking advice as to what can be done to assist survival of endangered species, and to readers simply interested in learning more about the creatures which may be lurking in their own immediate area – ‘The ‘critters’ in the back yard’, if you will. Readers seeking beautiful photographs of British wildlife may also find it of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 7 ½.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ Hidden Nature: Uncovering the UK’s Wildlife’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A History of Birds’

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Reviewer: Michael Keith

Title:  A History of Birds

Author: Simon Wills

Total Number of Pages: 180

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 8

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In the final paragraph of this volume’s Introduction, the author writes the following: ‘The world would be a miserable place without birds, and in this book I hope to show how the relationship between us and our avian counterparts has evolved. Our modern attitudes are very much shaped by our ancestor’s beliefs and experiences’. It is an excellent precis of the book’s content.

In addition to the afore-mentioned paragraph, the Introduction also discusses the place that birds have played in human society throughout the centuries. It is followed by an Acknowledgements section, within-which those who assisted with this volume are thanked. The 30 sections which comprise the majority of the volume follow. The book contains no Chapters per se’, but rather Sections devoted to individual bird types. These are unnumbered, but include both the common (Blackbird) and the exotic (Flamingo). Although not stated, the qualification for inclusion with this volume seems to be that at some stage such birds have either been resident in the British Isles or are familiar parts of British culture (the Ostrich being a case in point). Within each Section, the reader is introduced to the subject, and given details of both its behaviour and its place in British and European legend and folklore. Subsections enclosed in boxes within each section provide additional, frequently-idiosyncratic details about the bird-type under discussion.  The Seagull on Stage (page 67) is one such example.  Where appropriate, the author includes personal reminiscences about the bird he is describing. The volume contains numerous illustrations. These are largely photographic in nature and comprise both monochrome and colour images. However, where required by the narrative, there are also reproductions of etchings, drawings, manuscripts and trademarks. While the sources of some of these photographs / images etc. are noted, many do not provide that detail. The Index and Contents pages contain no reference to the existence of illustrations within the work.  Numerous quotes also appear throughout the volume. Regrettably these lack source-citations, and as a result their authenticity must inevitably be questioned. A two-page Index completes the volume. Despite the fact that some species are range-specific while others migrate over considerable distances, the book contains no Maps.

That this volume is readable and well-researched is very evident. This reviewer does however have reservations concerning the Index. During the review process, words were randomly sought from within the Index.  Included were such terms as Publius Claudius Pulcher (page 13), Ostrich Racing (page 104) and Heyhoe (page 176).  No Index entry was found for any of these terms. In addition, although the Index noted that the term Falconry appeared on pages 34 and 71-72, that term also appeared on pages 126 and 127. Why the latter entries were omitted is unknown. As these were the results of random Index searches; what else may be missing cannot be known.

As already noted this volume is readable and well-researched. Despite the previously noted ‘limitations’, it is likely to have wide reader appeal. ‘Bird lovers’ of all persuasions and interest-levels are likely to find it a delight and it could well become a standard reference work with their libraries.  Readers who simply see a bird and want to learn about it, are also likely to find this volume of use. The unusual information it contains may also appeal to the compilers of ‘Pub-quiz’ competitions, while visual artists could find the photographs a useful resource.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume an 8.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘ A History of Birds’

Musings on becoming a ‘Pensioner’

On 23 October 2017 I became a ‘Pensioner’!!

Let me explain:

Under the laws of the country in which i live, when I attain the age of 65, I am entitled to receive a fortnightly amount of money from a grateful government; this being ‘Reward’ for the taxes I have  paid to them as a worker over the last 40 or so years. it si ‘free’ certainly, although to receive it one has to have an interview with an official i the relevant Government department and, when doing-so, provide them with all the necessary ‘bits of paper’ that are required to prove that i actually are whom I say I am.

One then waits, hoping that the application has been approved.

That is the easy part; it’s the ‘psychological’ aspect which is more entertaining.

Rightly or wrongly, the term ‘Pensioner’ has certain attributes attached to it. The perceived image is of an old person (invariably male) with a long white beard, a walking sick and, perhaps, an accompanying beard. he is also usually slightly less than bright and wears a dazed look as it he is trying to make sense of his environment. he also has a ‘hat’ – a very important piece of apparel which definitely marks him as being ‘an Old’.  Said hat accompanies him everywhere and is most noticeable when he is driving his (frequently, unsurprisingly, old) car erratically down the local highway.  It is, after all, common knowledge that ‘elderly men with hats’ are the world’s worst drivers’ and are to be avoided at all costs by all other drivers. the ‘hat’ is the signature; see it and avoid  the vehicle if at all possible.

Except that I am none.of those, although I am certainly male. I do not, for instance,  possess a long white beard, a walking stick and definitely not a hat worthy of the name. These are of course all stereotypes and i had certainly embraced them; indeed I actually knew people who conformed to them with a high degree of accuracy. The stereotype was well-entrenched.

Before unintentionally becoming one of the ‘Chosen’, I had real problems with the image I have detailed above. I was aware, of course,  that I was to enter the realm of the ‘Pensioner’ yet I did not fit my own stereotype. Indeed I was very definitely  anything but. I still hold  to this view, and to a certain extent am still fighting  with it. Certainly my ‘calendar’/ physical age is 65 years of age, but the mind that is attached to the frame is still anything but; it still undertakes academic-level research, it still tries to unravel complex problems involving gold mining extraction processes., and it still has sufficient capacity to write a weekly review of books received from a publisher in another country. The mind still asks the questions and the body is still reasonably fit and working  well. All of which does not fit the previously-noted stereotype.

My problem therefore is self-inflicted, and a matter of ‘self-perception’. The ‘mind’ says ‘You are not ‘old’ yet (to use an aviation analogy), the air-frame’s hours are ever increasing  (albeit gradually, imperceptibly).  and the skinning is starting to show evidence of a shortening fatigue life.  It’s an interesting situation, made somewhat more interesting by the apparent visual evidence that I am  younger than those around me; the ‘real’ Pensioners’, evidence that can become rather irrelevant when I see my reflection in a shop window or when I am smiled at by a ‘young mum’propelling a toddler down the road in a pushchair,  and realise that, to her and her ilk I am actually ‘Old’, a  ‘Grandfather’ if you will. THAT is a dose of reality… There are other, similar, reminders.

So here I am; a ‘Pensioner’. It’s a new experience, the stereotypes are gradually being  eroded, and I am slowly moving (albeit still to a degree ‘kicking and screaming’) into what I am assured is ‘A new stage of my life’. My acquaintances (all of whom have already made ‘The Jump’) have made me welcome into their world, but it is still a new land, with all sorts of unknowns. I know what I do NOT want to do, yet at this very early stage. I do not know what I CAN do . As I said above, it is apparently a ‘new’ stage; and it remains to be saeen what form it will take. and how I will react to what I  encounter. Age being what it is, there is, of course, no going back, so I am, like it or not ‘committed’.To use an aviation analogy, I have passed the ‘Point of No Return” in much the same way as an aircraft is committed to fly onwards to its destination because it has nowhere to go and not enough fuel to go back.

The ‘flight’ promises to be an interesting one…

Thank you.

Musings on becoming a ‘Pensioner’