With the eighth episode of Star Wars now available to watch in the comfort of your own home, it's time to look forward to the third of the new generation of Star Trek films, and to prepare you for that, Dorling Kindersley's latest in their series of "The... Book" is The Star Trek Book. Unlike almost every other Star Trek book I have ever read (and I have plenty on my bookshelves, of course, courtesy of the brilliant publishers without whom Books Monthly simply wouldn't exist), this is far and away the most useful, because it explains just about everything any self-respecting Trekkie, Trekker, Star Trek fan or aficionado needs to know; most importantly, it explains timelines, and of utmost importance is the explanation of the Kelvin timeline which saw the new franchise set in an alternative universe. There are lavish illustrations, some of which have never yet seen the light of day, brilliant essays on characters, races, technology etc., and there's an overall sense of satisfaction when you've finished reading it, that at last, you know what's going on, who's doing it and why. This is positively the very best Star Trek book in the known universe, and one of DK's finest. Find my review on the Nonfiction page...
At the top of the page you'll see that I'm calling this a Pen and Sword special issue - I've had more brilliant books from Pen and Sword this month than from any other publisher, and they are all, without exception, brilliant. There are more Pen and Sword books on the way for the next issue, so this is just the first of many Pen and Sword "special issues"... I can't see this ending any time soon! Also in this issue, on the Children's books page, the next two books in the Trebizon series are published by Egmont, books 4 and 5 - and they are truly superb!
See you next month, when I shall also be celebrating a fabulous series of Rudyard Kipling books published by his original publisher, Macmillan: The Just So Stories, The Jungle Books, Puck of Pook's Hill etc. in a fantastic new uniform edition published this month. Until June, then...
Pen and Sword Publications Special Issue
are here: Books Monthly »
The Home Page »
Going Back in time - to the
Having a little time on our hands a couple of years ago, my wife and I decided we would follow the example of Who Do You Think You Are? and attempt to find out more about our respective families. Over the course of around six months, we traced our families on all four sides back through the centuries, uncovering perhaps more questions than answers. In this series I've been trying to remember what life was like back in the 1950s, and at that time, my own personal life was very insular, very enclosed. We had a huge nuclear family in Brockworth, with aunts and uncles, grandparents and great uncles and aunts, cousins and the like, spread around the village, and all inhabiting identical 1930s three-bedroomed villa houses with the exception of one aunt, who lived in the council estate with her husband Owen, a very strange, skeletal man. More of him later, perhaps.
Shortly after starting Grammar School in 1957 I recall starting to get migraines, at least, when I was taken to see Dr Cookson, our family GP, that's what he diagnosed. My symptoms involved a slowly magnifying halo of glittering, angular lights over one eye that culminated in a feeling of extreme nausea. I would have been eleven or twelve at the time, so this would have been 1957 or thereabouts. I was told that at the outset of the symptoms, I should leave school, get the first bus home and go to bed in a darkened room as soon as possible. I don't recall being given any medication. Going home mid-day presented a problem, as my Mum was now working at the primary school as a dinner lady, so I was told to go to my Gran's house in Boverton Drive, which was a short walk from my own house, and nearer to walk to than my own house from the bus stop. Inevitably, by the time I got to my Gran's house, the glittering lights had gone and the feeling of nausea had subsided. Nowadays one would be sent to see the school nurse and allowed to lay down in a darkened room until the symptoms passed, but I don't believe the Crypt Grammar School, Gloucester, had such a thing as a nurse... So home I would go, recover overnight and back to school the next day. My Gran was Mum's Mum, Florence Kimber, originally from Hampshire, who had married my Granddad and moved to Brockworth from Cockney London when the rest of the family disembarked in 1937.
It was probably the Gloucester Aircraft Factory that lured everybody to Brockworth - there was plenty of work, and most of the family worked there for a time, including my Dad. The thing about my Gran was that she was the only grandparent I ever knew, and she meant the world to me. I remember asking about my maternal Granddad, Henry William Kimber - he died in 1943, three years before I was born. And I remember learning that my paternal grandfather died in the great war, at the Battle of the Somme, in 1916. I have since learned more about him during the course of our genealogical investigations. What I do not recall, is ever asking about or ever hearing about my paternal grandmother, Emily Kemp, 1886-1929. Only my sister, Jean, is older than me in the Norman family, and she has no memory of her either. We have cousins who are roughly the same age as us, but they can't throw any light on her either other than what can be uncovered on Ancestry.co.uk, and what we all remember from snatched conversations with now long-dead parents. (Next month sees the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme - Pen and Sword have a huge range of new books on the Somme, many of which will be featured in the June issue of Books Monthly).
My grandfather, Arthur Robert Norman, was born in 1882 and died in 1916. There are four other brothers on our family tree, and the third of those other brothers, younger than Arthur Robert Norman, was Leopold Septimus Norman, born 1884. I know for a fact that my Dad (also Arthur Robert Norman) and his three older sisters, my aunts Doris, Florrie and Ivy, went to live with and were brought up by Leopold Septimus Norman in 1916, when my grandfather died at the Somme. Great Uncle Leo must have been the seventh child, although we have only been able to trace three younger siblings. In Victorian England large families were commonplace and many babies failed to survive to childhood, so there must have been three more baby Normans before him. He and his wife, Great Aunt Maggie, often visited us in Brockworth. I remember them as being kind, very generous (half-crowns were in huge supply for Jean and me - a fortune in those days) and very funny.
I remember visiting them in Lyme Regis - this could have been a day trip, as we never ever holidayed on the south coast, only ever on the Isle of Thanet. Anyway, Great Uncle Leo was heavily into spiritualism, and I remember, over a cup of tea, him telling my Dad that he had been in touch with Dad's mother, Emily. Our visit would have been in the early 1950s - Emily died in 1929. A séance, maybe? Their house was crammed with books about fairies and spiritualism and the like, and I had just discovered the black magic novels of Dennis Wheatley - how thrilling! The room went silent, and Dad moved the conversation on. There was bad feeling about Grandma Emily, clearly, and she was never spoken of in our house, even when Dad's three sisters and their familes came to stay in Brockworth. All I can think of is that Emily could not cope with her grief and bringing up the four Norman children, and hived them off to live with Uncle Leo and Aunt Maggie. Emily Norman, née Kemp, married again, and had a fifth child, my Uncle Eddie, who died a few years ago. I also know for a fact that he was "rescued" from Emily's household and taken to live with Dad and his three sisters under the roof of Uncle Leo and Aunt Maggie. Genealogical records are a wonderful way of finding out about your ancestors, but they don't solve mysteries such as this one. The only way to solve such mysteries is to quiz your parents and your parents whilst they still have their memories in a pre-dementia clarity that doesn't last forever. We no longer have that opportunity - to pick up a photograph of someone we don't recognise, and ask Mum or Dad who they were. They're all gone, and we never asked them enough questions! Which is why I'm writing these memoirs...
So, back to the fifties, then. Last month we were talking about the Saturday Skiffle Club, which became the Saturday Club and from memory, concentrated on traditional jazz, which suddenly, overnight, became the latest trend in popular music, thanks in part to Kenny Ball's Jazzmen and Midnight in Moscow, and Acker Bilk's Stranger On The Shore (not trad jazz at all, but under the aegis of Acker Bilk, it helped bring trad jazz into the limelight in a way it had never been before except, perhaps, in the early decades of the 20th century). Bands vied with each other for prominence, but for me it was always Acker Bilk - Mr Acker Bilk and His Paramount Jazz Band - I saw them twice in Cheltenham, once in Gloucester, and once in Bristol, and they always were paramount. I had all of their recordings, most of which I have since converted to CDs which have been brilliantly remastered, but lack one of the most vital elements of the original vinyl recordings, the copious sleeve notes written by the genius, Peter Leslie. I'm still searching at boot sales for copies - I would happily transcribe all of those sleeve notes and post them on the web - they were fantastic!
The ginger-haired twins who lived next door also adored trad jazz, but they would always argue who was best - they favoured the Dutch Swing College Jazz Band and Chris Barber's Jazz Band, but they were not musicians, and I was - I played the violin and the guitar. Nigel and Norman Hughes attempted to make a guitar from a Hobby's Magazine template at youth club, which we all attended every Friday night in the next village, Hucclecote, but it was a poor thing, and they weren't ever musical enough to make music, only listen, so I felt that my opinion, that the band members of the Paramount Jazz Band were far superior to any other trad jazz band at the time, carried far more weight than theirs. I never did like the Dutch Swing College Jazz Band, and Chris Barber, though adequate, was never in the same league as Acker. Whilst I was obsessed with Acker Bilk, I discovered the genius of Django Reinhardt by listening to some old 78rpm records of Dad's, recordings from the late 1930s featuring the Quintette Du Hot Club de France, and started to collect LP records that had been reissued in the 1950s - the technique of noise reduction and remastering was in its infancy in the 1950s and these LP records, though having the advantage of containing several tracks, still sounded as though they'd been pressed in the thirties! At school I was very much a musical snob - it was classical music and traditional jazz, plus a little French jazz, for me. Others were heavily into Elvis Presley, Fats Dominoe, Lord Rockingham's Eleven, etc., etc. And then came the Beatles... My journey into a new-found love of rock and roll music is worthy of a new chapter, and I've bored you for long enough in this issue!
More next month! See you in June!
Back to top of page...
small print: Books
Monthly, now well into its eighteenth year on the web,
is published on or slightly before the first day of
each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here.
If you wish to submit something for publication in the
magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I
don't make any money from this publication. If you
want to send me something to review, contact me via
email and I'll let you know where to send it.