‘Destroy this Book in the Name of Science’ by Mike Barfield


Science is exciting and at no point is this more apparent than when viewed through the eyes of a child, as this fun-filled new publication from Mike Barfield goes to show.


As an impressionable ten-year-old, mere mention of the word ‘science’ had me thinking about dissolving just about anything in huge beakers of acid. With real-world scientific knowledge limited to the realms of mixing salt in water and weird Brainiac-related science abuse involving walking on custard and testing out slippery socks, I just couldn’t wait to get to secondary school and discover what wonders awaited me in the teenage science lab. Who could possibly resist the temptation of flammable alkaline metals, fizzing rainbow-coloured liquids and sooty beakers tarnished by improperly adjusted Bunsen burners?

When I first visited my secondary school, the chemistry teacher set up an experiment to show that the colour of fire could be changed using different types of salt. I’ll never forget adding borax to the soft glow of a Bunsen burner and seeing the flame change to a vivid apple green. The teacher managed to feign delight at what was no doubt the same experiment he’d seen dozens of times already that evening, musing ‘I’d rather like a pair of trousers that colour’ as I happily trotted off for my next lab tour.

What’s the point of this weird childhood anecdote, you may ask? To show that children are impressionable and liable to be amazed by even the simplest feats of science. It’s a good thing, too, because we all know how important it is to get children interested in STEM from an early age. As a parent, older sibling, aunt, uncle or concerned observer, it’s never too soon to get the young Isaac Newtons in your life excited about the wonderful world of science – and what better place to start than in the home.

The good news is that hands-on, kid-friendly science doesn’t have to be limited to the chemicals, crystals and compounds in the average chemistry set. A solution comes in the form of Destroy this Book in the Name of Science, an entertaining new publication from author Mike Barfield, which proves the perfect literary addition to the lab/bedroom of curious children.

Complete with its very own cut-out Einstein mask, this book is filled with projects and tasks to push out and pull apart, with pages reserved for colouring, doodling, cutting, tearing and flat-out destroying – all in the name of science. With the help of a little glue and some determination, even the most fledgling of boffins can discover the physics behinds some exceptional magic tricks, build a working cardboard hoop glider to out-fly any paper aeroplane and race paper sea turtles with the help of just a little washing up liquid.

The comically illustrated book is a simple affordable method of awakening the latent scientist nestled within each young brain. I would recommend this book for adults wanting to engage children in a little scientific fun or, equally, tired editorial staff in need of a Friday afternoon pick-me-up.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine.

Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes – Harry Graham

I was rummaging through some old books this weekend and I came across my Grandparents’ old copy of Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes by Col. D. Streamer (Harry Graham).

Have you heard of it? If not, you’re about to. As part of my Obscure Poetry journey I thought I’d share some of my favourite rhymes with you.

Ruthless Rhymes1 (1)

But first, a little background. Ruthless Rhymes for Heartless Homes was published in 1898 and is full of delightfully cruel little rhymes, which are to the point and completely without moral.

The book was described in an editorial by the Times as embodying a world where ‘there are no values nor standards of conduct or feeling, and where the plainest sense is the plainest nonsense.’

Now, on with the rhymes. Enjoy!

Impetuous Samuel
Sam had spirits naught could check,
And to-day, at breakfast, he
Broke his baby sister’s neck,
So he shan’t have jam for tea!

The Stern Parent
Father heard his Children scream,
So he threw them in the stream,
Saying, as he drowned the third,
“Children should be seen, not heard!”

Nb I once read this poem (The Stern Parent) as part of my primary school’s Christmas production. My choice. I don’t think the teachers approved.

Nurse’s Mistake
Nurse, who peppered baby’s face
(She mistook it for a muffin),
Held her tongue and kept her place,
“Laying low and sayin’ nuffin’”;
Mother, seeing baby blinded,
Said, “Oh, nurse, how absent-minded!”

The Fond Father
Of Baby I was very fond,
She’d won her father’s heart;
So, when she fell into the pond,
It gave me quite a start.

Misfortunes Never Come Singly
Making toast at the fireside,
Nurse fell in the grate and died;
And, what makes it ten times worse,
All the toast was burned with nurse.

I remember often reading these as a child, and pretending to find them funny to impress the adults, while all the while puzzling over why having jam taken away was a punishment.

As an adult I’m able to appreciate how bluntly hilarious and ahead of their time they are.

Oh, one more thing, the illustrations are great!


“People in a small town tend to do a lot of talking, even when they don’t know what they’re talking about. ” — Don Roff

A hilarious take on village politics at their very worst.

A Tunnel is Only a Hole on its Side – James Minter


James Minter was born in Oxfordshire, from whence he is said to draw much inspiration for his writing. Prior to writing fiction, Minter spent 35 years in the IT industry working on specialist literature, including training manuals. In 2009 Minter turned his mind to writing fiction, the experience of which he soon fell in love with. Five years on and he has become an award-winning author. His first book, The Hole Opportunity,was published in 2011 and formed the beginning of The Hole Trilogy. The book went on to be the Bronze Winner for Adult Fiction at the Wishing Shelf Book Awards in 2013. Minter’s second book, The Unexpected Consequences of Iron Overload, was published the following year, taking a humorous look at the medical condition Haemochromatosis and written to help raise awareness of the condition, from which Minter himself suffers. The second book in The Hole Trilogy, A Tunnel is Only a Hole on its Side, was published in 2013.

The Hole Trilogy follows the lives of the citizens of the small town of Harpsden. In A Tunnel is Only a Hole on its Side, Minter takes a look at the reaction of the town’s citizens when faced with the idea of change. Harpsden is in dire need of a bypass – the roads are so clogged that the traffic backs up right to the high street, making accessing Waitrose an absolute nightmare. When a letter arrives from the council to announce a proposed new bypass, which threatens to cut through the local golf course, the citizens of Harpsden are driven to distraction. The club’s members, including the captain Major Woods, are horrified by the proposal and take it upon themselves to redesign the route. Major Woods takes the opportunity to reignite a feud he has with ‘hole farmer’ Colin Griggs and proposes a route that will effectively wipe the Griggs’ farm off the map. Meanwhile, kindly Colin opts for an alternate route that will suit everyone – tunnelling under the golf course and constructing the tunnel himself, potentially winning the favour of Major Woods in the process. As with all small town politics, however, nothing is ever that simple.

When I started reading this book, Minter’s writing style immediately appealed to me. The text is very well written, accessible, and humorous. I had to do a little of my own research to begin with as I hadn’t had the opportunity to read the first book in the trilogy. I was a little confused by the concept of ‘hole farming’ and wasn’t familiar with the feud between Colin Griggs and Major Woods, but after a bit of surfing the web I soon set this straight and was able to enjoy the book for what it is, a really funny, light-hearted read.

My initial reaction to Minter’s work was that it reads like an English sitcom, an opinion which I maintained throughout. It really does feel as though you are watching an episode of Keeping up Appearances or One Foot in the Grave. I really liked Minter’s introduction of Colin Griggs (whose character I absolutely love, by the way – but more on that later). Colin is introduced as an aging farmer, whose thoughts are so plagued by the rumour of a new bypass that he is unable to sleep and decides to put pen to paper to help clear his head. The description of Colin, sneaking downstairs in the early hours of the morning, trying so hard to be quiet and ultimately stumbling aimlessly in the dark, is priceless:

‘Making his way downstairs, he remembered the third from the top produced a loud squeak. Stepping over it, he stumbled past the next two treads. In the dark, he’d misjudged the distance. He struggled to maintain his balance ricocheting off the walls like a pinball in an arcade machine.’

Another aspect of Minter’s writing I enjoyed was being able to see the characters thoughts through the use of the third person omniscient. This too, for me, added to the feel of the book being like a sitcom. An example which immediately comes to mind is Colin’s wife’s description of Colin coming in from the cold in the first chapter:

‘Dropping his smile he flopped back into his chair. The fly on his pyjama bottoms gaped. There was nothing to see. It must be cold out there, she thought.’

Minter is said to draw on his own knowledge of rural Oxfordshire as the inspiration for his characters. Hailing from a small town myself, I can definitely relate to Minter’s choice of characters and his description of village politics. Those involved in community interest groups can very often get far too carried away, especially if it is a heavily contested subject. This is evident with the characters in Minter’s book and none more so than Major Woods, who sees himself as being at ‘war’ with several other citizens of Harpsden and takes his role as head of the Golfer’s Against the New Bypass very, very seriously:

‘The Major felt his hackles rise. “Mr Flanagan, you’ve been invited here today as a guest, to report on proceedings only. This is not a public debate. Please keep your thoughts to yourself. If you’d listen and not interrupt, then as Mary said, you will learn. Now please be quiet. Questions will be allowed later.” The colour in his cheeks was reminiscent of a Macaques’ red bum.’

The Major in general is only too reminiscent of someone taking a role far too seriously. No doubt the bypass is an important subject, but the Major appears more than a little unhinged. I hope I don’t make any enemies by saying that from why I understand of small groups like this there is always a character such as the Major, who feels they can take the law into their own hands, Minter just does a rather fantastic and hilarious job of describing such an individual.

One final passage of praise for this book: I thought the characters were fantastic. Minter presents a really good mix of characters, including a fantastically posh and aging Lady of the Manor, a sultry seductress, as well as characters who appeal to a reader’s better nature, and others that are just downright infuriating. Major Woods is firmly rooted in that last category for me; I find the idea of such a man absolutely repugnant, which I think is what makes him such a great character. A friend of mine once told me of an aging army Major who would always sign his name ‘Major’ so and so, if there was a chance the person reading it might think they were better than him. I don’t know if such a man actually exists, but it is of him that I thought when reading about the self important, furious and somewhat ridiculous man that is Major Woods.

‘The persistent drone of the Mercedes horn alerted him to the Major’s arrival. Looking up he was taken aback to see him, eyes staring, mouth trembling, moustache twitching, face reddening, nostril flaring, only a few feet away from him.’

Needless to say, anybody who insists on being called Major outside of a barracks by close friends is not ok by me, but he does make for a rather amusing read.

On the other hand, I struggle to see how anyone could fail to warm to Colin Griggs. The man is so well meaning, while perhaps a little short sighted at times. I really took to Colin, finding his inability to use a computer an endearing and largely accurate description of many older people I know.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the book as a whole. Minter has created something very unique to him – it is different to anything I have read before. The only aspect of the book I struggled with slightly, and which I feel could perhaps use a bit more work, is the transition between settings and chapters. At times the text can read a bit like a script and it can get a little bit much, making it difficult to read too much in one sitting.

Overall, I found A Tunnel is Only a Hole on its Side to be a really light-hearted and entertaining look at village politics and rural living. I think Minter is undoubtedly unique in his writing style and has created something, which, while it may not be for everyone, will have a lot of people singing its praises. I would strongly recommend anyone give it a go, if only to experience something a little different.

Many thanks to James Minter for providing me with a free review copy of the book.