Tuesday 30 June 2009

The Tango Dancers

She likes the way he holds her close,
confident and firm, yet not too tight.
She likes to feel his strong embrace
as he moves her body across the floor.

He likes the way her body moves,
graceful, slowly swaying.
He likes to hold her, firm and close
as he guides her body around the floor.

The music sweeps them on and on,
gliding, turning, prancing,
quick then slow, moving as one
their bodies meet in rhythmic steps.

Her body turns in tune with his,
legs entwine in a lingering caress;
they step apart, he twirls her round
then brings her close and leads her on.

The music stops, their dancing ends,
they say goodbye - perhaps again?
She liked the way he held her close,
He liked the way her body moved.

This post is just an excuse to put up some more suggestively seductive pictures of tango dancing. Simply enjoy!

Wednesday 24 June 2009

songs for swingin' lovers!

This is one of my all time favourite albums. I acquired the original LP either in the late 1950's or the very early 1960's. Not sure how I ended up with this. It might not even have been mine. Whatever, I just loved it and played it all the time. It featured the great Nelson Riddle as the orchestrator of the music and conductor of the orchestra which is not credited on the label. I loved to pretend I was the conductor and had visions of becoming an orchestrator myself. I knew I couldn't sing, and as I had no opportunity to prove that I couldn't orchestrate this was something I could indulge in for long enough. The music was a wonderful selection of 15 of the greatest classics of popular American songs. The full list is:

1 You make me feel so young
2 It happened in Monterey
3 You're getting to be a habit with me
4 You brought a new kind of love to me
5 Too marvellous for words
6 Old devil moon
7 Pennies from heaven
8 Love is here to stay
9 I've got you under my skin
10 I thought about you
11 Well' be together again
12 Makin' whoopee
13 Swingin' down the lane
14 Anything goes
15 How about you?

And of course there was the incomparable Frank Sinatra himself. The tracks were recorded in January 1956 when Sinatra was in his full bloom as a singer. Riddle's orchestration gives the music a light and delicate, slightly jazzy feel to it, while Sinatra complements the music with his rich yet light voice and his near perfect timing and phrasing.

The cover itself is a work of art with Sinatra in one of his classic poses looking down at the oh so happy and care free lovers. For as the title implies this is not a disc of heartbreak or sad love. Instead the music, the lyrics and Sinatra's voice all combine to celebrate the joy and the sheer fun of being in love. If you have never heard this disc then treat yourself – it is now available on CD - and enjoy!

To whet your appetite here is I've got you under my skin from youtube It is not a live performance, but does feature lots of lovely photos of the man himself. You can hear the whole album here on spotify.

Friday 19 June 2009

Elections in Iran and Lebanon

The recent Presidential election in Iran has caused a fair amount of political and media frenzy here in the West. It has also brought out a lot of people onto the streets in Tehran. And good luck to them. People's right to protest should be supported everywhere and if they can bring about some liberalisation of the regime even better. However we should be careful of believing everything the opposition claims.

In the first place all the candidates were “official” candidates in that only candidates approved by the establishment get to run. Real opposition to the Islamic Republic is not allowed. In the second place it is very difficult to get an informed feel for what happened during the election and what is happening now. I don't speak Farsi and wouldn't recognize a Persian word if I saw one. Nor I suspect do the overwhelming majority of Western journalists and so-called experts now pontificating about Iranian public opinion. They all seem to be based in the capital, Tehran and rely on interpreters or on English speaking Iranians. Since by all accounts the driving force behind the main opposition candidate, Mousavi, is the richer and better educated urban voters, then it is not surprising that most of our information comes from opposition sources.

The articles that have been written about the elections have not helped much either. While Moussavi did attract large turnouts of supporters, so did Ahmadinejad. Opinion polling is not an exact science anywhere and least of all in Iran. There is not much of a case that can be proved by reliance on opinion polls. Nevertheless polls that showed Mousavi neck and neck were counterbalanced by polls that showed Ahmadinejad winning by more or less the official margin. And it is a fact that Ahmadinejad did win the 2004 election, defeating Rafsanjani in the run-off election by winning 62% of the vote. It is also worthy of note that in all presidential elections in Iran the sitting president has always won a second term.

Thus it was always a likely outcome that Ahmadinejad would win the election. This does not of course mean that there was no fraud. We simply do not know. And it is really a matter for the Iranians. What is most interesting about the elections is that yet again Western politicians and commentators feel obliged to categorise or rather stereotype the candidates as either “hardline” or “reformist”, which usually goes with “pro-western”. This is nearly always done on the basis of no knowledge whatsoever about the country or the candidates. In Iran for example the attempt to portray Mousavi as some kind of pro-western liberal reformer is so wide of the mark that it beggars belief that it is even tried. This is the same Mousavi who was a very hardline, repressive and anti-western Prime Minister from 1981-1989. The Mousavi campaign is also very closely supported by former President Rafsanjani. In terms of what their campaign was proposing for Iran, here is the view of M K Bhadrakumar, former Indian dimpomat:
“If we are to leave out the largely inconsequential “Gucci crowd” of north Tehran, who no doubt imparted a lot of color, verve and mirth to Mousavi’s campaign, the hardcore of his political platform comprised powerful vested interests who were making a last-ditch attempt to grab power from the Khamenei-led regime. On the one hand, these interest groups were severely opposed to the economic policies under Ahmadinejad, which threatened their control of key sectors such as foreign trade, private education and agriculture.
For those who do not know Iran better, suffice to say that the Rafsanjani family clan owns vast financial empires in Iran, including foreign trade, vast landholdings and the largest network of private universities in Iran. Known as Azad there are 300 branches spread over the country, they are not only money-spinners but could also press into Mousavi’s election campaign an active cadre of student activists numbering some 3 million.”
It is interesting to note that Bhadrakumar's article which appeared in the Online edition of Asia Times, is entitled Rafsanjani's gambit backfires.

It would seem then that Mousavi's great reforms are to make it easier for people like Rafsanjani to make even more money. The inclusion of all these students would also explain the active use of the new media by the Mousavi campaign and their access to the English speaking airwaves. Of course the support of the liberal urban intelligentsia does not necessarily make for an election victory – see John Kerry in 2004. Given that the Rafsanjani clan is widely regarded in Iran as corrupt business dealers and that Ahmadinejad decisively defeated Rafsanjani in 2005, it should not really be a surprise that Mousavi's close association with Rafsanjani would prove to be electorally unpopular.

Once again it must be emphasized that we do not know what actually happened during the election in Iran. Though the protests against the result have continued at least in Tehran. Once again it is difficult to get an accurate picture of what is happening in the provinces. The size and demands of the protests may indicate that we are moving from an internal power struggle within the Islamic regime - Mousavi/Rafsanjani against Ahmadinejad/Kamenei - to a broader struggle for changes to the regime. We just do not know at the moment. However that has never stopped the Western intelligentsia from seeking to interfere. At least it looks like there will be no military attack from the West on Iran. Just the Machiavellian arts of propaganda.

In Lebanon on the other hand we do know what happened in their recent parliamentary elections. Once again the West found it imperative to stereotype the leading coalitions as either pro-western or in this case pro-Iranian. And surprise, surprise the supposedly pro-Iranian bloc, the March 8 Alliance, which included Hezbollah won a clear majority of the popular vote, 55% to the 45% for the pro-western March 14 Alliance. Not that you would know this from the mainstream media. For, due to the quaintness, or profoundly undemocratic nature of the Lebanese electoral system, the March 14 Alliance, which remember lost the popular vote, won 71 of the 128 seats in the Parliament. Where were the cries of outrage at this blatant subversion of the popular will? Conspicuous by their absence. Instead we in the West were treated to a chorus of reports on how successful the pro-western bloc had been and how Hezbollah had suffered a major reverse.

Lebanon remains a country dominated by religious affiliation. The current deal allocates half the Parliamentary seats to Christians and the other half to Muslims. Unfortunately from a democratic perspective all the evidence shows that only about 35-40% of the population is Christian. Within in the Christian community each sect is allocated its own seat or seats. Thus the Protestants have one seat allocated to them, while the Armenian Orthodox get five seats and the Greek Catholics get eight seats. The big losers in this game are the Shia Muslims who by most accounts represent nearly 40% of the population. Historically the poorest segment of Lebanese society, the Shia are allocated a mere 27 seats in Parliament, approximately 21% of the seats. Now it is a matter for the Lebanese to determine their own electoral system. I just don't see why our leaders in the West should be so loud in their praise for a system that so blatantly discriminates against the largest group in the country.

A closer look at the make-up of the March 14 Alliance also calls into question just to what extent they are in fact liberals worthy of our support. The leading component is the main Sunni party the Future Party. It's current leader is Saad Hariri who is the son of the previous leader Rafik Hariri. This party is also closely allied to Saudi Arabia, not exactly a beacon of civil liberties. Another key party is the main Druze party which goes by the exotic name of Progressive Socialist Party. Its leader is Walid Jumblatt and its previous leader – yes you've guessed, his father, Kemal Jumblatt. The use of the word Socialist in the party's name seems to owe more to the father's love of Orwell than to any belief in anything remotely socialist. Unless Tony Blair still counts as a socialist. The other mainstay of the March 14 Alliance are the two blocs of Maronite Christians. Both are very right wing and one is modelled on the Falangists of Franco's Spain. Again not exactly what you would expect from a pro-western party.

And yet that is the norm in the Middle East. The so-called moderates and our friends in that region all seem to be corrupt dynastic dictatorships – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the various mini states in the Gulf. The plural nature of Lebanon has prevented a similar dictatorship from emerging, though not without successive attempts by the Maronite minority. However the dynastic principle is still alive and well. Throughout the region the only parties that seem to be free from this dynastic corruption are Hezbollah in the Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. They of course, like Iran itself are regarded as hors jeu because they are unwilling to accept their allocated role as Western stooges.

Monday 15 June 2009

What's Left?

Some thoughts on the recent Euro elections. Which you may have missed as they were about as exciting as a Gordon Brown relaunch. Apart from the flurry of attention given to the election of two BNP MEPs, the main media story was the success of the centre right and the collapse of the centre left vote throughout Europe. A rather superficial attempt at conveying the meaning of the election outcomes. While the traditional left of centre parties did on the whole do very poorly, the centre right parties did not in fact do very well. Across Europe as a whole, the main right wing parties lost votes, though not nearly as badly as the mainstream left which saw its vote evaporate. New Labour in particular did very badly, polling less than UKIP. The French socialists and the German SPD also registered significant loss of votes. However, whatever spin you put on it the results do not amount to a ringing endorsement of the mainstream right. In fact just about all the main political groupings lost votes. Only the Greens and their allies in the European Free Alliance, who include the SNP and Plaid Cymry, gained slightly, up from 5.5% to 7.2%. Not much to write home about either. Clearly though, the biggest losers were the left, both the traditional parties and the radical left.

What has caused this collapse of the left? In the first place it may be long overdue to revisit the language used. Referring to New Labour or the current French Socialist Party as left wing is pretty much meaningless. Along with the German Social Democrats they long ago gave up on traditional left wing causes to become standard bearers of neo-liberalism. At least in Italy they don't even pretend. The recently formed party created by the former left wing parties is simply the Democratic Party. While it is true that our continental brothers and sisters have managed to retain better funded and more generous health and welfare provision than in the UK, none have put forward any kind of alternative economic and social programme to the dominant neo-liberal consensus. To paraphrase a slogan from an earlier generation the current so-called left offers capitalism with a human face. Though in relation to immigration, asylum and the treatment of minorities, especially Muslim minorities, there is precious little evidence of much in the way of humanity. The left often seems intent on proving itself to be even more illiberal than the right on many issues.

While this approach has clearly brought electoral success during economic good times, the recent downturn and current crisis has badly exposed the left. Without a credible alternative strategy for combating the crisis voters have to a greater or lesser extent just deserted the traditional left. Though the right have not convinced many, the left has been exposed as the emperor with no clothes, or perhaps more accurately with no clothes of his or her own.

As for the radical left or the Group of European United Left and the Nordic Green Alliance, they have failed to make much of an impact anywhere, with the possible exception of Germany where they won 7.5% of the vote, which is still not a lot. As this grouping includes Sinn Feinn it would seem to be more a group of convenience than a genuine meeting of minds on the way forward. Europe is full of miniscule left wing parties most of which never win enough votes to gain seats in any Parliament anywhere. It is not at all clear if the current crisis will bring enough of them together to develop a common programme which can offer a credible and electorally popular alternative to not just the right but the traditional left.

Faced with the catastrophic failure of the current neo-liberal consensus, which in addition to bringing us to the verge of economic collapse, has also brought us everlasting wars of occupation and a constant erosion of our civil liberties, you would expect there to be an opening for a left wing alternative. The current leaders of the discredited traditional left parties are clearly unable and probably unwilling to embark on any kind of fundamental rethink. Are there enough members of these parties to provide a new generation of leaders? One open to real alternatives? The radical left parties have so far never achieved any kind of electoral success. Can they change? If not, what's left? God knows!

Wednesday 10 June 2009

In and Out of Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein is only about an hour and a half's drive from Zürich and as we had never been to Liechtenstein before we took the opportunity during out last visit to add another country to our list. With a population of just over 35,000, Liechtenstein is the sixth smallest country in the world. From Switzerland you just drive over the river Rhine. If you are not very observant you are not aware that you are in another country. There are no border controls or customs as Liechtenstein is part of the Swiss custom zone, uses the Swiss franc and both are part of the European Economic Area. Once over the border we headed up straight away, climbing a zigzagging road and then under a tunnel to reach a hidden valley with Malbrun as its main village/resort.
Malbrun is right at the end of the road and from here you can walk or ski over the mountains into Austria. It is a typical Alpine village with lots of wooden buildings, mainly chalets and some hotels. Though there was lots of snow still lying on the hillsides, the skiing season was over and the place had a real empty feel about it. The summer season for walkers and mountain bikers had not yet started so everywhere seemed closed. Still it was a lovely, clear and sunny day, so we wandered about a bit and looked into the little chapel high above the village and then headed off again to find a café.
On the way down we passed a charming church with the traditional onion dome in the little village of Triesenberg, then found a lovely café with a fine balcony and we spent a relaxing time high above the Rhine looking over and down into Switzerland. All the while enjoying the coffee and torte.

We continued down the mountains and soon reached Vaduz the small capital of Liechtenstein. Vaduz is very easy to walk about and the central area is full of public sculptures, museums and galleries. Not that we had time to visit any.
Liechtenstein is clearly a very wealthy place and Vaduz has its fair share of banks and other investment institutions. Pretty well supplied with fancy and expensive shops as well. Liechtenstein also seems to share the Swiss love of cows in public spaces.
Vaduz is also the home to Liechtenstein's own Parliament. There are only 25 elected members, so it is not surprising that it is rather simple wooden building, more like a warehouse than a Parliament – not a patch on our wonderful Parliament building in Edinburgh.
Liechtenstein has its own Monarchy, well Princes actually, as along with Wales, Liechtenstein is a Principality. The ruling family is the House of Liechtenstein and the Principality takes its name from the dynasty. The current Prince is Hans-Adam 11 and he apparently still has quite significant political powers. The princely family live in a very imposing castle which towers above Vaduz and is not normally open to the public.

From Vaduz we headed off for Austria and in just over half an hour we had crossed the border, a real one this time with guards and customs. Not long from the border you come to Feldkirch a charming little county town. Feldkirch has a beautiful medieval centre though we only had a little time to wander about admiring the traditional buildings and shops before finding an Italian restaurant for much needed food.
Unfortunately it had started to rain by the time we reached Feldkirch though that did not stop one of our number from enjoying himself. His love of rain must come from his Scottish heritage!

Leaving Feldkirch we drove back into Liechtenstein and in next to no time we were in and out again and over the Rhine, back in Switzerland, heading home to Zürich.

Saturday 6 June 2009

Who's afraid of a nuclear Iran?

Hardly a week goes by without the appearance of some “news” story about how close Iran is to developing nuclear weapons. This “news” is usually conveyed in a way to make it clear that were Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, this would be a very, very bad thing indeed. Stories about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme are so frequent that is has almost become accepted wisdom in the west that Iran does indeed have such a programme. Iran has of course always denied that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons and despite the best efforts of Israel and the neo-cons in the USA, there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons programme. However let us leave that aside as I want to focus on why the default position of just about everyone who opines about this matter is that Iran must not under any circumstance be allowed to have nuclear weapons. What is so frightening about a nuclear Iran?

In the first place it cannot be stated often enough that the mere possession of weapons, whether nuclear or not, does not equal intent to use said weapons. Otherwise, given the size of the nuclear and non nuclear arsenals of both the USA and the USSR during the cold war, the world would surely be at an end. We in the UK are the proud owners of our own nuclear weapons, not to mention a fair sized military, yet we claim we are not a threat to anyone. So, why the fear of a nuclear Iran?

There are it seems to me, two main reasons for this. The main one is the insistent campaign from Israel to portray Iran as a mortal and existential threat to the very survival of Israel. In this Israel has had the unwavering support, as usual of the USA, which for its own reasons has pursued an anti Iran policy ever since the creation of the Islamic Republic. In the case of the USA, the Islamic Republic of Iran represents a direct challenge to US hegemony in the Middle East. For this reason the USA has thwarted Iranian membership of the World Trade Organization, named Iran as part of an axis of evil and pursued a policy of regime change in Iran. And despite the nice words from Obama, his administration has not as yet changed policy towards Iran.

Israeli fear of Iran seems strange and overblown. Overblown is certainly is, for why would Iran attack Israel? In fact how could it attack Israel? With no common border, Iran lacks any of the necessary military means to mount an airborne or naval attack on Israel. Everyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of geography and weapons knows this. Even if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons this would change nothing. Any attack on Israel would not only bring about the unleashing of Israel's own nuclear weapons, but also the full might of the USA, leading to the almost certain obliteration of Iran. But this has nothing to do with reality. Israel needs an enemy, a bogeyman with whom to scare its own citizens and above all to scare the rest of the world into supporting poor little peace loving Israel, permanently under threat from powerful neighbours. This is nothing more than the continuation of the Jew as victim narrative so dear to Zionists. Previously Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, used to serve as the threatening bogeyman. Now that Iraq is a model democracy and under American occupation, it can no longer fulfil that role. A new bogeyman was needed and Iran fits the bill quite nicely. Already regarded as a hostile enemy by the Americans, and now with a populist President, every willing to utter a bellicose quote or two, Iran is perfect as the existential threat to Israel. Faced with such a threat to its very survival how can Israel be expected to make any kind of accommodation with the Palestinians, who as everyone knows are just the mere stooges of the Iranians. The Israeli aim is to get the world and in particular the Americans to focus on the alleged dangers of an alleged nuclear Iran in order to stave off any international pressure on Israel to face up to its responsibilities towards the Palestinians.

Where does the UK and the rest of the world fit into this picture? If Iran were to acquire a nuclear capacity, this would upset or more likely overthrow the current world order re nuclear weapons. If Iran can get away with developing a nuclear arsenal, then who would be next? Saudi Arabia? Turkey? Brazil? Japan? Such a prospect is widely regarded as unwelcome and to be avoided if at all possible. For the UK and France, a nuclear Iran poses another direct challenge to their pretensions as great powers with permanent seats and vetoes on the UN Security Council.

In all the media froth about a nuclear Iran, little is ever written about what is the point of having nuclear weapons. It is just assumed that our nuclear arsenal is a deterrent, and as such a good thing to have. Of course if it is such a useful thing to have as a deterrent, then it is hard to see why Iran should be denied this benefit. After all the Iranians have not invaded or attacked anybody for some 200 hundred years or more. On the other hand in the last 50 years or so they have been invaded by Saddam's Iraq, egged on and supported by the USA and the UK, subjected to US and UK involvement in the overthrowing of a democratically elected government in the 1950s, this leading to the dictatorship of the Shah. And Iran is still regarded as a hostile regime by the USA. If you were an Iranian would you not want the security that a nuclear deterrent would provide?

The other beneficial (from a UK perspective) aspect of the discussion about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons is that it deflects attention away from the destructive power of non nuclear weapons. Apart from the two atomic bombs dropped by the USA at the tail end of the Second World War, nuclear weapons have not been used. But the carnage has continued, year by year. Millions and millions of people get killed and maimed, but so long as no nuclear weapons are involved, it doesn't seem to matter too much. Leaving aside the carnage from the Second World War, in the last few years we have seen horrific violence caused by the US and UK led invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, with in both cases increasing numbers of civilian casualties. And of course in December and January the Orwellian named Israel Defence Force ( the most moral army in the world) managed to slaughter some 1400 Palestinians in Gaza, the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians, including women and children. And all without the benefit of nuclear weapons. Now if the Palestinians had their own nuclear deterrent?

Tuesday 2 June 2009

The Return of John Macnab and Romanno Bridge

Andrew Greig's novel was the reading group's book for June. I knew that this was a modern day follow-up or reworking of a John Buchan novel entitled simply John Macnab. However not having read the original, I had no idea what to expect. The first surprise is that there is no John Macnab as such. Instead we have three middle aged friends – Neil, Murray and Alasdair - who have decided to embark on a series of daring escapades in the Highlands of Scotland. The escapades take the form of a wager which involves relieving three Highland estates of a salmon or a brace of grouse or a deer. The challenge is published in the Scotsman and is the same challenge as in John Buchan's novel. In order to hide their real identities the three conspirators use the name John Macnab as a sort of nom de plume.

The story then develops much like an old fashioned rip-roaring adventure yarn, with lots of daring-do, obstacles to overcome and cunning and potentially violent adversaries to outwit. There is a distinct feel of Enid Blyton's Famous Five about the novel, though with the added ingredients of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll with copious amounts of booze thrown in for good measure. The three adventurers all have a past which gradually emerges as the tale develops. This allows Greig to present his characters as real people and not merely stock figures. In their quest they are soon joined by the beautiful and feisty Kirsty, who has her own past demons to confront. Their adversaries are also presented as interesting people in their own right, especially the local policeman, Jim MacIver and the somewhat mysterious Ellen Stobo, sent up from London to find out what is really going on. As two of the estates are foreign owned and the third is HM's very own Balmoral there is plenty of scope for discussion about privilege, land ownership and access, not to mention adding a bit of colour and mystery to the tale.

This is a cracking good tale and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Fast paced and written with a light touch you are kept in suspense right up to the last page. Part of this suspense is provided by the uncertainty over the identity of the narrator. It is never clear, until the very end, just who has written the tale. The very first sentence – “Begin the afternoon in August when an old blue Ford Escort quietly enters a small Highland town.” - creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and mystery. Every so often the narrator includes references to the future, one of them about what some minor character will do seventy years on, when even the narrator will be dead. This air of uncertainty as to the status of the tale and its narrator is continued right to the end. The last chapter begins by repeating a line uttered by one of the characters earlier in the tale: “Everything I have told you is true. You must decide whether to believe that or not.”

Romanno Bridge

This is Andrew Greig's follow-up book to The Return of John Macnab. And another cracking good adventure yarn it is too. Featuring the same cast from John Macnab with a few newcomers thrown in for good measure. Two major differences though, one relatively minor – the main focus is Kirsty – it appears to be her story. The other really significant difference is that this book is much darker and violent with an ever rising count of murders to rival Taggart.

The possibility of a follow-up is hinted at in the last chapter of John Macnab, especially the last few pages, when Neil meets up with Kirsty again. Interestingly the new book does not begin with this. Instead the first third of the book is all about Kirsty and her new life in Dumfries as she starts afresh after the excitement of John Macnab's adventures. This is when she makes the acquaintance of Billy Mackie, a retired stonemason who tells her a strange tale about the Stone of Destiny. Hooked, she starts to make enquiries and soon the new adventure begins. For Romanno Bridge is about the true tale surrounding the mystery of the Stone of Destiny, or should that be the Stones of Destiny? Quite a few stones appear in this tale as well as rings with hidden messages.

Kirsty does meet up with Neil again and the account is pretty much the same as in the ending of John Macnab, with the key difference that this time it is told in the third person, by the unknown narrator. Once again there is a bit of a mystery as to who this narrator is. By then we have met most of the new characters including Leo, the youngish Kiwi working in the Samye Ling Buddhist monastery and most spectacularly, Mr Adamson, the cold blooded and very violent villain of the piece. The other key newcomer – Inga Johanssen from Norway - has been mentioned but does not appear until later.

As with John Macnab this is an excellent adventure tale, well written and fast paced. Greig has a lovely way with words, which enlivens the book and takes it beyond mere adventure. Here is an example of a cheeky use of metaphor. Leo the Kiwi is thinking about the challenges of life:- “For sure it is a threatening and uncertain world. Don't complain, mate – do something or get used to it: his dad's mantra. He didn't do metaphors, the old fella. He didn't beat about the bush.”

In the main Romanno Bridge features much of the same mix as before – a bit more sex and drugs and still quite a lot of booze. There is more busking than Rock 'n Roll this time. What makes it very different though is that this time the world is a much darker place. Real suffering occurs and a lot of people die, usually very unpleasantly. This may have something to do with the fact that though the action starts immediately after the end of John Macnab, Romanno Bridge wasn't written until 2008 and the darker ambience probably reflects the changes that have taken place in the world over the previous 12 years.