Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Book Review: “MI6: British Secret Intelligence Service 1909 – 1945” by Nigel West

“MI6: British Secret Intelligence Service 1909 – 1945” by Nigel West (Frontline Books, an imprint of Pen and Sword Books, Barnsley, 2019)

Having been brought up on the dashing, glamorous spy stories of “Reilly - Ace of Spies” and John Buchan’s Hannay, I was very keen to read this book to find the true story behind how those early characters of British espionage actually fitted in.

I was greatly surprised to learn at the beginning of the book that, prior to the First World War, the British Intelligence Services were not properly organised and operated in a rather haphazard manner, with ship captains and overseas travellers reporting back in an informal manner on anything they should come across.  The advent of the First World War, and the worries about communist inflitrators following the Russian Revolution, meant that the British Intelligence Services needed to be better organised and out of all this the organisations that we now know as MI5, MI6 and GCHQ were eventually created.

The first thing I have to say about this book is that it is very well researched and goes into a huge amount of detail.  In fact, it goes into so much detail that it becomes rather difficult to read, other than in small doses, as each page bombards you with fact upon fact, such as code names for agents, code names for operations, acronyms for different organisations and committees and generally who did what, where and when.  It is all completely fascinating and I read the book from cover to cover but, despite being an avid reader, I had to take it in small chunks and it took me longer than usual to finish.  This is by no means a criticism, as I fully appreciate how keen the author was to get as much information into the book as possible and to make it factually accurate.  In fact, I am very much looking forward to reading Nigel West’s other accounts.

Despite knowing quite a lot already about intelligence operations, the First and Second World Wars, etc. there are lots of instances described in this book about which I had no idea.  To name just a couple to whet you appetite, I was very surprised to discover that officers and NCOs who were going abroad on active service during the Second World War were all taught a special code to use were they to be captured, by which they could conceal useful military information in letters home without making it obvious to the censors in their POW camps.

Another interesting fact that I didn’t know was quite how great the concern was during World War 2 that Spain might enter the war on the side of the Axis nations and the problems that this would cause for any military information in the Mediterranean.  It turns out that this was such a realistic proposition that all Spanish ship captains carried a set of sealed instructions with them at all times, which were to be opened should Spain enter the war, with instructions as to what they should do next.

There are numerous fascinating stories such as this, lots of tales of intrigue from between the wars when British intelligence was trying to maintain operational stations in various cities across Europe and the latter part of the book also goes into great detail about how the American intelligence services were set up and the British involvement with them.

As you can tell from the foregoing, I am really enthusiastic about this book and enjoyed reading every page of it, however heavy going it may have been at times.  I would certainly recommend this book to anybody with an interest in this subject and I would fully expect Nigel West’s other books to be as similarly detailed and enjoyable.

“MI6: British Secret Intelligence Service 1909 – 1945” by Nigel West (Frontline Books, an imprint of Pen and Sword Books, Barnsley, 2019).  For further details, as well as information about all their wonderful books, check out the Pen & Sword website

Paul Breeze
13th February 2020

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Stuart Greenfield (1934-2020) - The World Champion At The End Of Our Road!

We were saddened to hear about the recent death of an old friend from our Pendle days, Stuart Greenfield.

Stuart was a popular character around his native Colne and he gained a certain amount of fame locally when he became involved with the ancient game of knur and spell, which enjoyed a revival in the towns around the East Lancashire / West Yorkshire border areas in the late 1950s.

Huge crowds used to flock out into the countryside to watch the matches and large sums used to change hands in sidebetting (allegedly…!).

By the early 1970s, the game had attracted sponsorship and TV coverage and Stuart managed to become World Champion (at least as far as the knur and spell "world" actually extended…) on two occasions.

He was retired when we knew him and spent most of his time walking and supporting the local cricket and football teams. One day, he got out his box of photos and memorabilia from his knur and spell days and started showing us - and Paul being Paul, he thought it would be a great subject to do a small book about.

Stuart wasn’t particularly academic so we wrote down all his memories and funny stories, typed them up and put it all into book form - and he kept popping round with extra notes of things that he’d thought of.

It was great fun to write and it was very good for Stuart as well as it pushed him to get in touch with a lot of old friends that he had lost touch with over the years.

Stuart was very proud of the book that we created together – and it remains to this day the only book in the world about the history and development of knur and spell.

I’m sure that, if he is looking down now, he would not want me to miss this opportunity to mention that copies are still available via Amazon and all other good outlets..!

Check it out HERE


Thursday, 17 October 2019

Debut EP Launch for Anna Malindi

Promising East Lancashire singer / songwriter Anna Malindi has just released her debut EP of four self-penned songs.  

The songs are entitled "Ignite", "Day & Night", "Back Home" and "Entirely Up To Me" and are available to purchase, and download via Spotify, CD Baby and other online music sites.

Anna has made video to accompany the track "Entirely Up To Me" and this can be viewed on YouTube via   THIS LINK

The songs were launched at special event at Pendle Forest Sports Club near Burnley on the 5th October, which raised £110.00 for the Women’s Refuge in Burnley and also featured support artists Georgia Clarkson and Amy Colvin.

Talking about how the somgs came about, Anna said:

"What started as idly playing the piano at my godmother’s house, has chaotically evolved into an EP being released on Spotify, Amazon Music and other platforms, a launch party, a YouTube video, and the beginnings of an online presence.

"A few months ago, I had the incredible opportunity to record four original songs at Superbee Studios just outside of Newark, (shout-out to you Andy for being the loveliest person, and so helpful.) It was a crazy whirlwind couple of days and has led to the most incredible few months.

"From writing my first ever song in January, to having the beginnings of a full-blown music career in September, it’s safe to say that this has been one of the craziest years of my life.

"Though all my songs mean something important to me, there is one that holds a special place in my heart. ‘Entirely Up To Me’ was first written for a charity that my Godmother worked for, that supports young people who are at risk from sexual exploitation.

"SCN Media, who I am currently working with to produce my music, were also working with these young people, giving them the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings through music.

"I wanted to capture the same fiery, angry, and powerful emotions in a way that many people could relate to and in ‘Entirely Up To Me’ I touch on topics such as stereotypes, body image and media influences.

"Even now in 2019, these issues that should’ve been sorted long ago are still prevalent in so many people’s lives, and my song and the corresponding music video were created in an attempt to celebrate uniqueness, the choices we have and remind everyone regardless of age, gender, race or sexuality that we all deserve more than we give ourselves credit for and it is forever entirely up to you. A quote that I’m pretty sure everyone should live by."

For more information and Anna and her music, check out:



CD Baby:

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

BOOK REVIEW: “Poems about Cambridge Eskimos & Ice Hockey in the UK” by Bill Harris

If you are an ice hockey fan with a sense of humour and you also like poetry, you will, like me, absolutely love this book.

I have enjoyed reading poems as long as I can remember, having been encouraged by my parents and at primary school. Encouraged to write at secondary school, by my teens I was writing verse myself and sending my efforts off to local newspaper and magazines.

Appreciation of ice hockey came later. I suspect that, little like the fox in Saint-Exupéry "Little Prince", ice hockey has been gradually taming me for the past 20 odd years.

My husband, Paul, is a sports writer who has written several books about ice hockey, writes up match reports for websites and local newspapers and does the announcements for home matches of the YKK sponsored Widnes Wild Ice Hockey Team. He also provides the music and annoucements for the Widnes Widnes Women’s Ice Hockey Team and the Riverside Raiders Recreational Ice Hockey Team home matches. I try to help out by taking notes of the incidents during matches and in 2016 I began to keep the score sheet for the Raiders home matches.

I began to write silly verse to encourage the teams and then Paul put forward the suggestion that I could perhaps become the Resident Poet at the rink. So I have a Facebook Page where I share my crazy verse.

When Paul gave me a copy of Bill’s book, I was pleased to note that I was not alone in writing crazy ice hockey verse. Bill has a very different approach to mine – apart from the obvious – he is not only originally from Canada (where ice hockey was born) but he also plays and is coach of a team. Because of that, his poems reflect the changing room banter and the Preface to this edition of the book, and to the previous edition "Smokey and The ‘Smos" (of which this is an updated and revised version), which is also included, contain timely warnings as to the content of the poems and the spirit in which they were written. "I should warn readers that the language in this volume reflects the language of the locker-room. Please be prepared for profanity".

And Bill does not disappoint – 114 pages of wonderful ice hockey-related poems follow - wall to wall fun. I hope Bill will not mind if I share one with you. (I have chosen this with great care as, in these PC days, alas, you never know who is watching…)

"Eskimo roots" (page 43)

When we were wee squirts in lumberjack shirts
In the cold Canadian snow,
We never thought about Cambridge a lot
Though we were future Eskimos.
Then we played our parts and we

Played with our hearts
For we came from the lands of snow,
From our tiny tot roots we grew into the boots
Of Oxford-bashing Eskimos."

And that is just one example of a host of fantastic poems.

As it happens, I am also a life-long Cambridge supporter, beginning with the Boat Race when I was four years old, so that added to my enjoyment of the book. The law of averages suggests that, as there are two or us, there will be more – the hunt is on!


Lucy London, 1st July 2019

Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Independently published (10 May 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1093829079
  • ISBN-13: 978-1093829075
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 0.7 x 19.8 cm
Mail Order via Amazon  HERE

Sunday, 30 June 2019

I just had to share this with you - a wonderful poem by Sophie Soleil with an illustration by Alastair Riley

"Joie de Vivre" silkscreen by Alastair Riley

L'ombre des hirondelles danse
Sur les murs brûlants de l'été
Mon âme retourne dans l'azur
De ce ciel dense
Lumière pure
Où se déploie l'ivresse
Des parfums en fleur
Des battements du cœur
D'une divine promesse

Sophie Soleil
Le 27 juin 2019


Silhouettes of swifts and swallows
Dance on scorching summer walls
My soul soars high into the deep blue
Of the opaque sky
Pure light, pure joy
Where the heady perfume
Of summer flowers blooming
And the sound of my beating heart
Offer up a promise of love divine.

Original French poem by Sophie Soleil, 27th June 2019 (Translated by Lucy London, 27th June 2019)

" 'Joie de vivre' is an original silkscreen from the studio of Alastair Riley [it was inspired by the desire to teach his son the difference between swallows, house martins and swifts].    The image is shared  here with Alastair's kind permission to illustrate Sophie Soleil’s poem “Mirage”.

Friday, 24 May 2019

BOOK REVIEW “The Cowkeeper’s Wish” by Tracy Kasaboski & Kristen den Hartog (Douglas & McIntyre, Madeira Park, BC, 2018)

Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre (28 Mar. 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1771622024
ISBN-13: 978-1771622028
Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.4 x 22.9 cm
Available from Amazon - and other places....

Knowing nothing about cows and dairy management, I wasn’t quite sure to what extent I would find this book of interest but, from the very first page, I was completely hooked and followed with great fascination this tale of a family against the backdrop of Victorian and Edwardian London.

Without wanting to give too much away, as I am sure that you, like me, will not want to put the book down once you have started reading it, it starts with Benjamin Jones and his wife walking (yes, walking, like most people had to back then) all the way from their home village in Wales to go and settle in south London with their herd of cows in the hope of finding a better life than their impoverished, rural home could provide.

It is fascinating to read about the social conditions of the world’s biggest metropolis at that time and of the hardships that most normal people faced. As we follow the Jones family’s progress through the generations, the book gives a huge amount of background information into the workings of the Poor Laws, Workhouses, pre NHS hospitals and mental asylums, chronicling the improvements in housing and gradual social changes that took place.

For the most part, each chapter focuses on a particular family member or branch and looks at what happened to them and what their surroundings were like over a period of time.

Now, I have done a little research into my own family, and can attest to how difficult it is, even with modern research methods, to take ancestors and find correct information about them and their circumstances. I can only say that the authors here have done such a lot of research, not just on line and in Censuses, but physically visiting places and checking local sources that this book really is a masterpiece of research and narrative. You feel that you know the various family members as you meet them and you are concerned about what happens to them. Unfortunately not all of the stories are happy ones – we have people regularly entering the Workhouse and mental asylums, children whose parents have died and left them orphans and even people who perished on the RMS "Titanic".

There is mention of Jack the Ripper and also Charlie Chaplin but I will let you get your own copy of the book so you can find out how they figure in the story.

I found an area of particularly personal interest later on in the book, where some of the people originated in Belvedere, Kent, UK, which was where my own Grandfather’s family also came from. It was interesting for me to read about the pre-First World War places that my Grandfather’s family would have recognised.

For people who are interested in the First World War, there is an interesting section where one of the family members joins the British Royal Navy and narrowly survives after his ship was sunk. Experiences on the Home Front are also described, when the Capital City started to sustain raids by German bombers and family members were moved to the safer suburbs. There is also a particularly interesting piece about the Silvertown Munitions Factory explosion.

While starting off in London, England, the focus of the book ends up in London, Ontario (Canada). Here again, I have a family interest as some of my relatives emigrated to Canada in the early part of the 20th Century, albeit not to Ontario. Once we get to London, Ontario, the deaths, disease and squalor are less prominently featured in the book than they were in London, England and the latter parts of the story are, for the most part, quite cheerful and positive.

It is a very sizeable book at 448 pages in length and the two authors have done a wonderful job in setting out so many facts in a highly entertaining and readable way.

As I have said already, I really enjoyed reading this book – the amount of details the author have gone into is incredible and I have learnt all sorts of things that I did not know about.

I do, however, have one small criticism and while I don’t wish to criticise such a well-produced publication, this has irked me throughout my reading of the book, so I feel it needs highlighting.

They say a picture can paint a thousand words and while this book has some really interesting photos of the various family members, there are whole passages of text devoted to describing other photos which are not included in the book and the authors go into great detail describing the people in the photos, what they are wearing, what their expressions are like and what their surroundings are like and I found myself asking again and again "where is this photo and why haven’t you put it in the book?"

The photo of the group of college staff taken on the roof of the building with views looking out across old time London would have been fascinating to be able to see, as would the cheerful photo of teenage Doris and her Baseball Team at her school in Canada. I am sure the authors had very good reasons for not including these and the many other photos they describe in depth in the book, but it does leave the reader wishing they had.

Having said that, the book overall is a fascinating read, telling far more than just the story of one family and I am certain it will be of great interest to people interested in many different subject areas.

Paul Breeze, May 2019

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

New Song Launched To Celebrate Women's Sport

The Widnes Wild women's ice hockey team   (Photo by Geoff White -
The Widnes Wild women’s team will be cheered onto the ice with a brand new song that has been especially written for them whey they play the last home game in their turbulent WPL season this Sunday 19th May against the Sheffield Shadows at Planet Ice Widnes – 5.30pm face off.

The song – entitled "The Girls…!" - has been written by the Wild’s Poet In Residence Lucy London who has been a keen follower of women’s sports for many years and has been particularly impressed by the attitude of the struggling Wild women’s team this season.

The women’s team have lost all of their league games to date after losing a large number of long-standing players during the summer and taking on a whole new squad of inexperienced players in a bold experiment in team building to help secure the club’s longer term future.

Talking about how the song came about, Lucy said:

"I am always coming up with ideas, jotting down lines for poems and songs and I like to write things to support the various ice hockey teams at Widnes."

"At a recent women’s team match, somebody from the visiting team expressed surprise that we were putting so much effort into the game day experience as it was "only women…". "

"I immediately put him straight and told him that we don’t differentiate at Widnes and that we try and put on the same show, it be men’s games, women’s games, junior games or rec games. However, it still irked me for a few days afterwards and in the end, I came up with the words to a song to celebrate women’s involvement in sport."

Determined that the song should be a rousing anthem to help cheer the Wild women on, Lucy contacted Canadian musician friends Jason Moon and Jaime April – originally from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, but now residing in Liverpool - to help out with the tune.

Jason and Jaime came up with a superb rousing tune to go with the lyrics and also produced a professional recording of the song to be played at the Wild Women’s team’s future home games at Planet Ice Widnes.

You can hear the song at the Wild women’s game on Sunday – face off 5.30pm - or, if you can’t wait that long, you can also listen to it now on Soundcloud by clicking on the link below.

Jason and Jaime also play in the bands April Moon and Wooden Rocket and can regularly be seen playing live around the North West and beyond.