Overlooked 50s/60s Gems: Brit Watches, Swiss Movements

A little look back at some beautifully made British watches from past:

The decade after WW2 was a time of grim austerity. Food, fuel, chocolate…almost everything worth having was rationed and those things that weren’t rationed, like say cars or motorcycles, cost a fortune, as the government encouraged every manufacturer to export the best stuff, or else mysteriously run out of aluminium on Thursday afternoons. Your choice chum.

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This scarcity of quality items included wristwatches and once the returning UK servicemen had flogged off the German watches, looted from the corpses of Waffen SS members, or bought for two Woodbines from destitute citizens in the ruined Fatherland, anyone who wanted a decent watch in the late 1940s/early 50s was faced with paying a hefty price to own anything decent. True, the British government had agreed a plan to kickstart watch and clockmaking in the UK, with generous grants to Smiths-Ingersoll and Timex, but from a collectors point of view many of these British watches were – and remain – fairly basic, built to an austerity budget.

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The English Caste System of The 1950s

In typically British fashion, gents watches from the 50s and 60s are divided according to the class system. Gold cased Garrards, Smiths Everest/Astral or perhaps a 9ct Vertex Revue for the local bank manager. Maybe a gold plated Bentima Star or Smiths for a teacher, or middle ranking civil servant. At the bottom end, a pin lever movement Timex, or a new `slim-line’ Ingersoll would do the job for a factory worker, or perhaps a `Services’ watch for those unfortunate enough to be conscripted in hellish Imperialist adventures like Korea or Suez in the 1950s.

The Vertex and Garrard watches are extremely well made, and worth collecting. They lack the weakness that many of the Smiths wristwatches have of the era, namely the weak nib on the setting lever. This is prone to wear, or breaking off, which means you cannot set the hands properly on the watch. As they ain’t making spare setting levers for Smiths watches these days, that means finding a mint, working Smiths and cannibalising it for one spare part. Expensive.

Collectors Tips: You Need to Think Big

When we say big, we are talking case sizes of 33mm or above, which include watches like the Smiths Astral/Everest models, the slim style Ingersolls or a nice gold/gold plated Accurist. Smaller watches, especially those with 9ct gold cases, can fetch decent money (£200-£300) but many collectors look at something like a 33mm case Bentima for example and think `girl’s watch mate.’

So search out the bigger dial models and if there’s a date window then make sure it clicks over nice and smooth at midnight or thereabouts. Check the winding crown very carefully, as it’s common to find a replacement crown and stem, which isn’t the correct one, has been bodged in at some point over the last 50 years.

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The humble Smiths-Ingersoll-Triumph pocket watches aren’t super collectable, but the `Animatronic’ models, featuring footballers, Dan Dare or Hopalong Cassidy are fetching really good money now. There’s also a special 1953 Coronation pocket watch, with the Queen on the dial and an engraved case which is a rare model.

At the posher end, the Bentima Star series used Swiss ETA movements and many Bentimas still keep reasonably good time today – very well made watch.

Another quality choice for watch collectors are JW Benson wristwatches from the post-war era, which often feature Swiss Revue (sometimes called Vertex Revue) movements. Typically found in a presentation 9ct case, a Benson/Revue is a like a miniature pocket watch inside, with two retaining screws holding the movement in and a sub-second dial just above the 6 o’clock position. The JW Benson `Tropical’ is another collectible model, featuring a unique inner dust cover, with a unique cross-shaped viewing cut-out section – make sure this inner movement cover isn’t missing by insisting the Tropical is opened up before you buy it.

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Accurist 21 jewel movement watches from the 50s and 60s have a definite classy feel about them and if you can find one with a well looked after case, it’s a fantastic buy for £50-£70 or so. Featuring an ETA Swiss movement, a slimline Accurist from the 50s gives you the `Mad Men’ look for Skagen money. Unlike a quartz Skagen however, your Accurist mechanical will still be running in 25 years time.

If you’re starting a watch collection on a tight budget, then a British watch with a basic Swiss movement inside it can be picked up at antique/watch fairs – running – from as little as £20. They aren’t anything special and often have a jewellers shop name on the dial, but offer a lot of watch, for very little money…

There’s a slogan in there somewhere.

Classic Album: Damn The Torpedoes

Damn The Torpedoes – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

I have a recurring dream. In my dream I ride a bad-to-the-bone, fat-tyred, low-slung Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 custom up from the Florida Keys to Memphis Tennessee.

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Staying in cheap motels, drinking in bars where guys bet their truck keys on a trick shot in pool, I end up dancing with girl called Casey Jo to Tom Petty songs on the Juke-box. We grabbed food at roadside diner near Montgomery, Alabama as I ride away with her as pillion.

Then I get ambushed and shot dead by her irate boyfriend, Willard. He drives an IROC and listens to American Girl on his cassette player.

You see, Tom Petty is the quintessence of good ol’ boy, Deep South, rock `n’ roll. This album captures that 70s southern rock sound; a whirling, jangly guitar soundtrack to an evening of neat whisky shots, making out in a Cadillac Coupe de Ville and waking up in jail with Jack Nicolson’s alcoholic lawyer from Easy Rider.

The opening track Refugee is a stormer, with lyrics like `Maybe you were tied up, kidnapped, held to ransom’ suggesting a brief relationship with a volatile woman could well be a good thing. It sets the tone of the album, with powerhouse Springsteen chords, booming drums and rousing choruses.

Next song Here Comes My Girl is arguably the stand-out track on the album. This is a song Dylan, Springsteen or McCartney would be proud to put their name to. The lyrics are classic references to escaping the drudgery of small town America, loving your girl and hoping for better days. The sound mixes country, blues and the best elements of 70s rock, with a ton of studio work headed by Jimmy Iovine.

Iovine had worked with Patti Smith, producing the epic single Because The Night and his passion for driving beats and blending strong keyboards with lyrical, rich guitar sounds shines through on Damn The Torpedoes.

Tracks like Don’t Do Me Like That, You Tell Me and Even The Losers help flesh out the album, give it some true durability, whilst Louisiana Rain is a pecan pie slice of country rock that neatly closes the record.

I’ll take some extra cream with that pie Casey Jo…

Pop Culture: The Black Leather Motorcycle Metaphor

When movie makers want to encapsulate rebellion, speed and danger on screen, there’s one character that ticks all the boxes; the motorcycle rider.

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Ever since the Victorians invented the motorcycle, young men have been tuning, racing and crashing them. Some women too. In films, this is the mode of transport for the iconoclastic anti-hero, the guy who plays by his own rules, from Brando in The Wild One, to Gael Garcia Bernal as Che in The Motorcycle Diaries. Would Tom Cruise’s Maverick in Top Gun have had the same outsider kudos if he’d driven a Pontiac Trans Am, rather than a Kawasaki Ninja?

Of course not every movie with a two-wheeled action sequence, like say McQueen’s jump over the wire in The Great Escape, or Hopper and Fonda’s quixotic search for redemption in Easy Rider, has managed to capture the essence of freedom and rebellion that motorcycles represent, as well as feature actors who can actually ride the bloody things. In case you didn’t know, Bud Ekins did the actual jump in Great Escape, although McQueen was a good enough rider to do the rest of the action sequence, and was selected for the USA’s international Enduro race team in 1964.

So let’s gloss over shameful celluloid capers like David Essex in Silver Dream Racer, a low budget, Seventies Brit-flick which turns Grand Prix racing into a Jackie comic strip. Better still, erase from your memory every lame second of Black Rain’s long chase scene, featuring Michael Douglas’s 110mph Harley Café Racer keeping up with a 160mph Suzuki GSXR 1100. Director Ridley Scott also gets the noise wrong for several machines used in Black Rain, which might seem picky, but try to imagine McQueen in Bullitt, driving a Mustang V8 which sounds like a Toyota Corolla on the soundtrack…

It isn’t really about the technical details in the end, because the motorcycle itself is the arrow which jolts the viewer into the movie.

THE OUTLAW BREED

Arguably the first example of motorcycle riders as outsider heroes is Kramer’s The Wild One, made in 1953 and banned in the UK, until the 59 Club showed it in their clubhouse in the mid 60s, causing queues around the door for two nights running.

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Brando is mildly mixed up as Johnny, the trophy-stealing leader of a gang who dreams of getting the girl, but it is Lee Marvin as Chino, the hell-raising, beered-up, top dog of a rival gang, who steals the movie. Where Brando seems merely surly, Marvin is an unstoppable force of nature who picks a fight with anybody who crosses him.

That same small-town fear and prejudice found in The Wild One underpins Easy Rider’s gloomy view of 60s America, as Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda ride their baroque `n’ roll choppers to New Orleans. Again, a supporting character defines true rebellion, as Jack Nicholson simply walks out of his hick town lawyer life, purely on a whim, grabs a football helmet, then joins the ride to Mardi Gras. Nicholson’s George Hanson just doesn’t give a shit about anything, but Wyatt and Billy are more concerned about their hidden drug money and getting stoned, than truly changing their hippie lifestyle.

Yet Easy Rider’s impact goes way beyond celebrating the `drop-out’ counter-culture of the 60s. Lazlo Kovaks cinematography portrays riding a chopper as a long dream, indeed director Dennis Hopper asked Kovaks to film over 50 hours of riding footage. Easy Rider was the catalyst for the entire custom bike building movement of 70s, a million blokes went home to their sheds and hacksawed their old Harleys and BSAs into something wild.

IF…A BRIT FLICK WITH MOTORCYCLE CLASS

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But for real outlaw venom, it’s hard to match Malcolm McDowell’s human time-bomb, Mick Travis in Lindsay Anderson’s hypnotic 60s Brit-flick, If.

Travis and his public school chum steal a BSA Lightning 650 on a whim and the technicolour montage that follows is perhaps the greatest explanation of why motorcycles fire the soul. Two young riders, laughing at the law and tearing across the landscape in sheer joyous freedom. Anderson then underscores the inherent sexiness of the motorcycle by having McDowell cop off with tiger-growling girl at a roadside cafe.

BSA should have been paying Anderson royalties for advertising their clapped-out oil-leaking motorbikes as top class bird-pullers. In reality, riding a BSA twin back in the late 60s meant you were more likely to pull Dudley Sutton, the camp-as-Christmas biker buddy from The Leather Boys.

MOTORCYCLES AS ACCESSORIES

After the counter-culture revolution of the 60s fizzled out, the 70s saw movies begin to use the motorcycle as a kind of shorthand for colouring in character, as well as portraying the bikes themselves as symbols of death, sex, youth, class, rebellion and escape.

Electra Glide In Blue for example portrays the bike itself as part of the prison, the highly uniform, regulated life, that the lead character is trying to escape from. Bike cop Wintergreen wants to leave his mundane traffic ticket existence behind, but the steel horse Harley is both his anchor to his working class roots and part of Wintergreen’s power; it frees him, and elevates him into an old school ‘Western’ lawman on the road. The Electra Glide itself – the blue one not the white traffic cop model – is filmed in detailed glory, a chrome-plated throne, for a man who is King for a day, or a fool for a woman. Electra Glide is a silly film in many ways, almost cartoonish, but unique in its approach to using the bike as a totemic object – the symbol of the 60s hippie culture is turned on its head.

Working class white trash Richard Gere rides a Triumph Bonneville in An Officer and a Gentleman to define his `I got nowhere else to go’ status to the audience. Zach Mayo is so poor he can’t even afford a car. That was dirt poor in heartland America.

Even in the 80s, the motorcycle was still a convenient prop to flag up the outsider, the lone wolf. In the first two Terminator movies, Schwarzeneggar’s robot steals a motorcycle as his initial means of transport and Terminator Two Arnie’s character takes the trouble to acquire the leather jacket, trousers, boots and sunglasses from a biker. Being a virtually indestructible robot, why does he want protective clothing? No practical reason obviously, but the dress code is part of the movie’s shorthand, to tell the audience that Arnie the Cyborg operates alone. He is, time’s arrow.

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In Mad Max, and its follow-up, called The Road Warrior in the US, director George Kennedy uses the motorcycle as a symbol of society’s collapse, and near-death, in an orgy of roller-derby, nihilistic highway destruction. In the first Mad Max, almost every innocent victim is a car driver, pedestrian, or driving a truck. Death arrives on two wheels, delivered by a band of killers utterly without any moral code, except their own warped biker gang system of vengeance and `pride’. Director Kennedy used some real `bikies,’ as they’re called in Oz, as extras in his Max trilogy and they have a genuine greasy menace.

It is the unpredictability of the biker gang in the first Mad Max, the way they turn from annoying drunks into rapists and killers, that mirrors the random nature of death itself in the movie, and accurately captures the scary reality of 70s/80s back-patch clubs like the Hells Angels, Outlaws, Gypsy Jokers etc. Real biker gangs have fired rockets into rival clubhouses in Denmark, been shot dead on the M40 and more – there was a time when biker gangs were genuinely scary. That time may come again.

SHOCK NEWS: WOMEN CAN RIDE MOTORCYCLES!

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But motorcycles can also confer a sexual potency on some film characters. Just consider a Marianne Faithfull in Girl On A Motorcycle, as an example. OK, the movie is basically French soft porn, but there’s no doubt that Mick Jagger’s ex unzipping herself from skin-tight leathers, or straddling a big Harley represents 60s female sexual liberation writ large. It might seem banal now, but saying that women could choose how, whom, and where they fucked was pretty revolutionary stuff.

Trinity in The Matrix movies is another combination of sexiness, wrapped in a Catwoman tight suit, but acts as a complex counterpoint to Reeves’ Neo; the opposite side of the gender coin in many ways. Trinity is much more than the typical `love interest’ found in mainstream movies: Is she real, or is she a kind of black leather mirror, reflecting Neo’s feminine side?

THE RUMBLEFISH AND PURE ESCAPE

On the Set of

Shame it’s a vile Kawa twin, but otherwise an interesting motorcycle movie

 

 

Long ago, Mickey Rourke did some decent acting and portrayed a new age motorcycle hero in Rumblefish. Here, director Francis Ford Coppola captures the rivalry, posturing and arcane rules of engagement between working class brothers.

Motorcycle Boy ( Rourke ) and his younger brother Rusty ( Matt Dillon ) are defined by their brawling reputations, past and present. Weak boys and hot women are drawn to the hollow power of the local tough guy, but Rourke’s character says it’s all bullshit, and begs his brother to quit his violent life before it’s too late.

Rumblefish tells it like it is when it comes to gangs, motorcycles, family feuds and chasing skirt, in short, everything that makes being young and driven by your hormones such a potentially tragic journey. The ending sees Rusty heading off to the ocean on Rourke’s bike, freeing the rumblefish that his dying brother tried to save, and finally visiting the ocean. The motorbike is both brotherly redemption, and a ticket out of the ghetto, not simply a badge of honour or power within it.

In the space of forty years, the motorcycle boy in the movies mutates from being a kind of cartoon bogeyman, a leather-clad threat to middle-America and instead becomes the good guy, the older, wiser brother. The motorcycle itself stops being a metaphor for death, and offers a way out, an escape for Everyman. It’s a hell of a ride baby.

Satan Cowell & His Circus of Fear

This is an extract from one of my books, Notes From The Margins – a series of essays on culture, politics, class, cycling vigilantes, Putin’s monarchy and why an Islamic Caliphate is an idea whose time has come.

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This essay looks at how Cowell presides, like an old fashioned 1960s impressario, over the fragile dreams of poor working class singers and entertainers. In an era where nobody goes out to watch live music – unless it’s a legal high festival in a swamp – Cowell has an ever tighter grip on the bottom rung of the social mobility ladder for the penniless, yet ambitious, within Britain. And beyond for that matter.

Here’s the extract, (first published in 2014) if you like it and want to sample more, then Notes From The Margin is on Amazon. 

The Poor Are Often the First Casualties of War

For the privately educated sons and daughters of the rich, a career in music can be funded by mummy and daddy until the royalties from the first hit album and US tour merchandising revenue comes rolling in. The likes of Coldplay, Mumford & Sons, Florence Welch or Ed Sheeran never had to consider throwing themselves into the lions’ den that is BGT, or X Factor, but for someone born poor, there really isn’t any other choice. This desperation, this hunger for a route out of call centre work, burger flipping jobs and the like, is what Cowell’s henchmen love to show in the back story segments of the shows. Cramped bedrooms back home, shabby DFS furniture, catching the number 11 bus to work…this is the life you can leave behind if you win the Live Final, this is the Big Time.

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But for every poor, working class person who makes it big from their stint in a Satan Cowell show, there are inevitable casualties. Winners can be losers too, like smoothie chops Steve Brookstein, ruthlessly dropped and crushed by the Cowell PR machine within a year of his X Factor win. Sam Bailey made the mistake of getting pregnant after her victory and unlike the real workplace – where such discrimination would be grounds for unfair dismissal – she was dropped from Syco records.

Winner Matt Cardle beat One Direction to win X Factor, but One D won the long distance race to riches and international fame. Cardle meanwhile, ended up in rehab, unable to cope with the elusive nature of fame and being part of Cowell’s music machine. The vulnerable Susan Boyle seems destined to live as a virtual recluse, caught in fractious arguments with her family over money after her global success. If ever a woman was NOT cut out for live touring in front of judgemental audiences, SuBo was that person – but still, she was thrown to the wolves after her second place result on BGT.

You see there is no re-negotiation once you’ve signed your soul away to the Devil. He owns you and if Satan Cowell is upset with you in any way, he finishes your career, just as easily as he made it in the first place. Like a Bond villain from the 70s, he lounges on his super yacht, surrounded by a bizarre harem of ex-girlfriends, lackeys and PR spinners, running an empire built on fear. Nobody dares check if the phone votes are actually being counted, or whether the whole thing is a con trick like Hughie Green’s Clap-o-meter back in the 60s. Newspapers, magazines and internet bloggers are all too hungry for spoon-fed X Factor/BGT stories to risk biting the hand that feeds them.

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The price we all pay for handing over mainstream music TV to someone like Cowell, and his imitators, is immense. No Bob Dylan, Michael Hutchence or Bryan Ferry will emerge from the X Factor, no Amy Winehouse will storm American Idol and there won’t be a new Morecambe and Wise making a debut on BGT. We live in an age where complete imbeciles compare One Direction to The Beatles; talent cannot even be spotted anymore – not by the audience, not by the judges, who are little more than glorified sidekick stooges to the circus ringmaster.

Here’s a news update for Don McLean – the day that Satan Cowell appeared on Pop Idol was the day the music died.

Car Reviews: 2012 Mercedes S350 BlueTec

Some cars are like clothes; they define who you are to the world, offer clues about your income, your aspirations. This car is definitely one of them.

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BlueTec has elegant, brutal lines

Just look at its rakish, gangster elegance. From the diplomat hush of the leather interior, to the dark, broad-shouldered hustle of its bodywork, like a Savile Row suit bursting with money, muscle and power, this car has real presence. You’ve arrived baby.

Sit inside this car and you sink into a gentleman’s club. The steering wheel feels like sculpted Italian marble, the buttons and switches work with a fluid, expensive grace. Fire up the V6 common rail diesel engine and whisper your way along urban streets, you will think it’s a petrol engine – there’s no hint of clatter, just class.

How Fast Does it Go Mister?

That’s not important. This is a V6 diesel, so true petrolheads will simply shrug and look elsewhere. The full spec S350 Blue Tec costs £95,000 (base model is £65,410) and for that kind of money you can get some insane, V8 powered, Mad Max refugee, throat-growling lunacy, that drinks unleaded like a fighter jet.

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No, what the Mercedes six cylinder, three litre engine delivers is a deceptive, velvet smooth punch of power. The seven speed autobox selects gears like a maitre’d choosing your favourite table. The Merc simply wafts along, but with enough grunt in reserve to humiliate any uppity lettings agents from Surbiton.

Handling and Braking

I wasn’t going to mention the S350’s ability to handle the twisty stuff, because it isn’t the type of driving an owner would do. But when you brake late, the S350 just shrugs and goes ‘try later next time.’ It corners with grace, aplomb and lots of other old fashioned words.

When you do corner hard the driver’s seat firms up by your shoulders, using some electronic magic to keep you firmly supported. It’s a nice touch, the car is reminding you that driving fast is a serious business, so do it properly; sit up straight and concentrate.

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Is It Really Worth The Money?

The standard model has a rear parking sensors, all the iPod/Bluetooth/DVD blah-blah gadgetry you could ask for and driving aids like electronic suspension, headlamp assist, anti-skid control and more.

If you want extras there are 19 inch AMG alloys, a panoramic sunroof, rear view parking camera, infrared pedestrian detection in your windscreen and a small fridge for the rear passengers. Nice touch.

The short answer to the question about true value, is that the three pointed star on a Mercedes is the gun sight of your personal ambition. It says to the world, `I’ve made it, now I’m spending it.’ You wouldn’t buy one, but your company might well lease one if you’re doing ridiculously well and use the same tax-avoidance schemes as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Boots, Cadbury’s et al.

But the S350 isn’t as in-your-face as many other rich people’s vehicles, it has more restraint, fewer delusions of grandeur than say a Popemobile white Range Rover, or a footballer’s City Blue Bentley. Some people might think you’re not really insanely wealthy if you drive the S350 – and maybe that’s a good thing?

In the end, for me, the S350 lacks the low-slung, muscular beauty of the Jaguar XF coupe, or the sweet soul music an M3 makes on a track day. The S350 BlueTec is a curiously emotionless car to drive, for all its deft handling, impressive brakes and bullet train power.

The S350 is like Schumacher; great driver, clinical, ruthless, utterly professional and a relentless achiever, a winner.

But Schumacher isn’t not Senna.

 

Book Reviews: Ideal Girl by Jenny O’Brien

Traditional hospital based romance, with the feel-good factor.

Overall Rating: 4 Stars Out of 5

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There are millions of readers who want an escape from the generally disappointing reality of modern life and this book is a perfect example of how authors can deliver those fleeting moments. Since Jane Austen penned Pride & Prejudice, arguably the template for romantic fiction, the magic recipe of dashingly handsome, wealthy hero, matched with poor but feisty heroine, mixed against a backdrop of misunderstandings, has proved a winner.

O’Brien sets the mood of the piece right from the start, with our heroine being a blend of Bridget Jones, Pollyanna and Nurse Duffy from BBC’s Casualty series. She isn’t a supermodel skinny bombshell, but a `girl-next-door’ type of young woman, just finishing her student nurse training. There’s a strident ward sister, a best friend who is more confident, gorgeous and sexually experienced than the heroine, and there’s Mitch, the dashing, Morgan sports car driving, tousle-haired bit of hot stuff, wandering the corridors with a bemused look on his face, as women repeatedly swoon at his feet.

The book isn’t ground-breaking, and although it is set in the present day, it feels like something from the 1960s. There are no violent punch-ups in A&E at the weekends, no dangerously disturbed drug addicts nicking the opiates or terror threats affecting anyone’s daily routine. Ideal Girl is an antidote to modern life, not a prism reflecting it. There’s nothing wrong with that and in many ways, the book has a great deal of old fashioned charm, which makes it a comforting read for anyone who still believes in true love, that lasts a lifetime, and that virgins should wait for `Mr Right.’

There are a few typos here and there, and I’d be the first to admit that my work has them too. Nobody’s perfect. But the overall tone, pace, plot structure and character development is all well thought out, and fluently written. You can tell O’Brien loves Dublin, and more importantly, loves her characters. One mechanism that really works very well is the way O’Brien switches inner monologues from hero to heroine, immediately after various awkward conversations.

This device lets the reader get into the heads of the two main characters, feel their confusion, the surging emotions, the love blossoming. That is point of romantic fiction; love is what makes us human, and deep down, all of us want a bit of magic in our lives and the hope of a happy ending.

Ideal Girl ticks all the right boxes for readers looking for a story that captures the very best aspects of human nature, and offers an escape from the real world.

 

Book Reviews: Across Great Divides

Across Great Divides

By Monique Roy

Star Rating: 4 out of 5

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Right from the start you get a real sense of time and place in this book, which opens just as Hitler and the Nazis have come to power in Germany during the 1930s. Monique builds up the pace steadily, introducing the reader to Oskar, a diamond cutter and dealer, his wife Helene, plus his twin daughters Eva and Inge, and their brother Max. From the first few chapters you can feel the foreboding, as the Nazis gradually tighten their grip on political power and then Hitler’s long term plans for the Jews of Europe, are set in horrible, tragic motion.

I have to say that the first half of this book is gripping, beautifully paced and it draws the reader into the era of pre-war Germany extremely well. The historical details are all there, the dialogue rings true and even the descriptions of diamond grading, washing and cutting are spot on. Monique is a writer who paints a vivid, realistic world from the pages of the past and that takes skill and imagination, as well as research.

As the book unfolds, the awful sense of doom never leaves the reader’s mind. We all know – or should – what happened to the Jews in Europe as war broke out in September 1939, and then the Germany army swept across Belgium, France, Norway and many other countries in 1940-41.

The flight from Berlin to Antwerp, then from ruined, war-torn Belgium to France, Spain, Portugal and eventually Rio-de-Janeiro is a roller-coaster of emotions – you hold your breath with each page as you wonder if each member of Oskar’s family will survive. There’s also a blossoming love story, for both Eva and Inge, as an underground network of Jews, and decent people willing to assist, help them escape the concentration camps being constructed across Eastern Europe from `42 onwards.

For me, the book loses a little of its edge and excitement in the second half, but the conclusion to this historical family saga is expertly handled, and any reader who loves books like The Winds of War, Schindler’s List, or The Diary of Anne Frank, will love this epic tale of survival, family bonds, true love and forgiveness.

Alastair w