Hitler’s Jet Plane: The ME 262 Story – Mano Ziegler

Jet Plane

Mano Ziegler, as a pilot of the legendary Me 163 rocket interceptor is uniquely placed to give the reader an insight into how the Nazi regime failed to utilise the Me 262 at the end of World War 2. His position as a member of the Luftwaffe gives us a perspective far removed from that of allied bias. Ziegler is honest about Hitler’s decaying mental state and his obsession with the “wunderwaffe” as a means of saving his diminishing power. Hitler’s determination to make the Me 262 into a “blitzbomber” doomed the aircraft. Time and again, developers and pilots sought to change the Fuhrer’s mind about the aircraft and time after time they failed. In the fighter configuration, the Me 262 was faster than anything the allies had and far better suited to attacking bombers than being one. Whilst Ziegler tells the reader of the innumerable benefits of the Me 262 he doesn’t avoid some of its major faults. He makes it very clear that an Me 262 caught on the ground was little but a sitting duck to allied air power.

Whilst this is a book about the use of the Me 262 in World War 2 by Nazi Germany it is much better read as a narrative of disharmony between the leadership and industry. This book tells us far more about the desperate situation Germany found itself in as the allies pressed in. What makes this book really worth reading, beyond its political scope, are the accounts of surviving Me 262 pilots. These accounts bring the aircraft to life and really let the reader “sit in the cockpit.”

Rating 7 out of 10

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Prisoners of Geography – Tim Marshall

Prisoners of Geography

In the winter of 2008 and early 2009 Russia turned off the supply of gas to the Ukraine. In doing so, large areas of the rest of Europe also lost a large proportion of their supply. Fear stalked the media and here in the UK there were many reports of how unprepared for a shortage we were. This was one of the moments that caused my teenage brain to become interested in Geopolitics. It was clear to me then that Russia wields its energy resources as a political weapon to ensure that most of Europe does little to oppose it. This seems to be clear to the author of this book as well. Tim Marshall sees the world in terms of its geographical constraints. To Marshall, rivers, mountains and oceans become major obstacles to countries and foreign policy. Mountains are unassailable physical barriers, rivers can only be overcome with massive investment and access to the seas is essential for economic success. If it isn’t already clear, I really enjoyed this book.

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Lost Japan – Alex Kerr

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When I picked up Lost Japan in my local Waterstones I was expecting to read a book about Japan’s fading past. Instead, I received a book of Alex Kerr’s lamentations about how his concept of Japan was being covered over by concrete. He frames the Japanese as a people deliberately trained to be passive and disconnected from their heritage. It is certainly a read that has polarised reader’s opinions of whether or not this is a book worth reading.

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In search of the Dark Ages – Michael Wood

There is no other period in history that excites the reader as much as the dark ages. The dark ages began with the fall of Rome and with it the search for knowledge. It ends, in Britain, with the titanic struggle for the throne in 1066 between competing Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Norse cultures. It is a difficult period to piece together due to the lack of written testimony left behind by the agents of change. “In search of the Dark Ages” attempts to give its readers an insight into this dramatic part of the British story by creating a narrative of carefully woven characters and events. The real question for us as readers though, is how successfully does this narrative convey the trials and tribulations of the Dark Ages? Continue reading

At the Acropolis

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The Acropolis is one of those magical places. I have never been quite so awed by any place that I’ve visited before this. Sure there were hordes of fellow tourists, ongoing restoration works and a merciless sun beating down but these did little to detract from the sense of wonder such a place evokes. To think that such a place was constructed in the 5th Century BC is in itself enough to impress any visitor. To think that at the same time as people here in Britain were living in wattle and daub structures people were able to construct such engineering marvels as the Parthenon with it subtle use of perspective and geometry is shocking.

If you do visit the Acropolis make sure you get a guided tour. The structures are beautiful but the stories, myths and legends conveyed by a guide do so much to give a sense of the people that inhabited the place. For example, our guide pointed out the Areopagus a rock where murderers were tried so that they didn’t taint the city of Athens. We were also told that the Areopagus was the place where Orestes was tried for killing his mother and her lover. As well as this, the Areopagus is supposedly the spot where the Gods tried Ares for the murder of Poseidon’s son according to Greek mythology. These little bits of culture are not available on the few information signs scattered around the site and really did wonders for creating just that. A sense of wonder.

Most interestingly for myself, I was drawn to the Temple of Athena Nike rather than the far more impressive buildings constructed at the summit. This building is rarely open to visitors but our guide gave us a wonderful sense of the importance of what is otherwise a comparatively boring temple. She told us that the Temple is oriented to face the island of Salamis where the Athenian people sheltered as the Persian army under Xerxes I destroyed Athens in 480BC. It was here that the Athenian fleet beat the Persian fleet leaving Xerxes with no option but to withdraw his army from Greece. Whilst the battle story is interesting it is the consequences of the Athenian victory at Salamis that the Athena Nike really reveals. Fundamentally, Salamis was a battle where West beat East. Without Salamis, there would be no democracy, citizenship, philosophy, theatre and even trial by Jury. Salamis catapulted Athens to the forefront of classical civilisation and allowed many new ideas to flourish. The small unremarkable Temple of Athena Nike encapsulates some of the most important drama to unfurl in the history of Europe and it is far too easily overlooked by visitors in favour of the Parthenon.

A long day out on Snowdon

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This is the view that greeted us when we clambered up the last steep incline onto the summit of Mount Snowdon. In the distance low clouds moved ominously towards us and in a few short minutes they would obscure this view completely. We found ourselves asking, as the sun faded and the world turned a cold grey, was it worth it?

Our journey to the top of Snowdon started below the summit on the shore of Llyn Gwynant in a small 3 man tent. We started our day, sipping on warm tea made with yesterday’s milk and chewing on a breakfast bar with a handful of Jelly Babies for a pick me up. Ahead of us lay a 4 mile hike to Pen-Y-Pas and then another 4 mile hike up the Pyg Track to the top of the mountain. Sat at the start, it seemed like a lot for two slightly overweight young men to achieve but we’d been waiting for our window of good weather and finally it had arrived.

I wouldn’t say we jumped at the opportunity. It was with great reluctance that we abandoned our blue and red camping chairs overlooking the lake but leave we did. I won’t say that the first stage of our walk, from the tent to the start of the Pyg track, was easy. It wasn’t. The ground was soft as the constant rain that had plagued us for days had caused the local streams and rivers to swell. Squelching along through knee high grass on slippery ground we hoped our whole trip would not be so difficult. Whilst we were looking down, we didn’t get much time to look around us but when we did, the view of the valley was stunning. It was especially pleasant to see our little tent down by the lake getting smaller with every step.

After an hour or two, we reached the start of the Pyg track. Ahead of us lay, another 4 miles of walking and over 760 metres of elevation. Taking the last opportunity to use the facilities we steeled our already tired legs and started off again. Our footpath rapidly changed into a series of steps and we dragged ourselves from rest stop to rest stop. Doubts began to form in my friend’s mind,  he didn’t think he was fit enough to make it. I pushed him onward, reluctant to let him give up on one of the easiest routes. Luckily we ran into a group of Irish scouts and we chased them all the way up to the top. Their positive attitude and crazy antics (including some very interesting leaning off ledges) cheered us up. The sun finally made its appearance around lunch time and we stopped a hundred metres below the summit for a sandwich or six.

One last trudge up what seemed like a near vertical slope brought us to the top of the mountain and seemingly the top of the world. As our vision cleared the top and we could gaze far over Wales we took a moment to watch the shadow of far distant clouds travelling ponderously over the hills and valleys. It was a view I shall not forget in a hurry. It made the hours of stumbling, sweating and struggling worth it. All too soon, the clouds began to blow in and we were left unable to see our hands in front of our faces. The temperature dropped by several degrees as we turned our back on the summit and started another long walk back to our tent, back to unfinished mugs of overly strong tea.

The Origins of the Eclair

I’ll admit to it. I’m partial to an eclair or seven. I know its the time of the year when diets are all the rage but I just can’t help myself around them. It only occurred to me the other day, however, that I didn’t know very much about these delicious pastry treats. So I decided to have a quick search and this is what I found.

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