Posted by: billpurdue | May 28, 2008

Roy Hattersley, old fashioned recipes and a very strange book…..

…..but before all that, I must mention the new James Bond thriller by Sebastian Faulks, the first James Bond novel for more than 40 years (although there have been recent James Bond novels for younger readers). It’s called Devil May Care :It’s released this week and even the Royal Navy – including one of its warships and a few helicopters – has been getting involved in the publicity. When interviewed on the Radio 4 “Today” programme, Mr Faulks said that most of his previous work was of a very different character to the James Bond genre – like asking a composer of symphonies to write a three minute pop song. It’s not easy to write a pop song, but it takes different skills. He read a short excerpt from the novel which sounded pretty good. Expect heavy discounts. Click here for the BBC news report.


I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Roy Hattersley, but somehow he seems to come over as a likeable sort of person. I certainly liked his Buster’s Secret Diaries (1), all about his Staffordshire Bull Terrier called Buster who was found one December night outside Lord Hattersley’s door. In fact I’ve seen m’lord coming back from a walk with the instantly recognisable Buster one day, when I was putting my walking boots on , ready for a day’s walking from Great Longstone in Derbyshire. The diaries are written from Buster’s point of view: he refers to Roy Hattersley as “The Man” and to his wife as “She”. According to Buster, he owns The Man, not the other way round. The Secret Diaries are a sequel to Buster’s Diaries (2) – still  available- which has even been translated into German, Italian and Hungarian. Buster even has his own website


The book I really wanted to talk about here was Roy Hattersley’s latest book, published last year: Borrowed Time: the story of Britain between the Wars.(3). This period of British history holds some fascination for me, though I’m not old enough to remember any of it. There have been many similar books about the period: this is Roy Hattersley’s own assessment of it, both the political and social aspects. The inter war period is often referred to as the “uneasy peace”. Even by just dipping into the book, it’s not hard to see why: the end of the war came just after the Russian revolution, which added extra difficulties to the negotiations over the peace treaty at Versailles; back home there was the problem of whether the mines, which had been nationalised for the duration of the war, should be put back to their previous state. On top of all that the miners were threatening a strike, the Church of England was in crisis and the cinema was taking inter-war Britain by storm. A fascinating book.


The not-so-healthy cookbook?

I was in Scotland for a weekend last month: wherever I go, I love to browse in a good bookshop if I get the chance. The ones I managed to pop into on this occasion were WHSmith in Lanark and W J White on the High Street at Peebles. In both shops I came across a great cookbook, but not one for diet conscious people. It was back in 1936 that the first ever “Broons” comic strip appeared in the (Scottish) Sunday Post and it’s been immensely popular ever since. If you’re from Scotland, you won’t need me to tell you that The Broons family comprises Maw, Paw, Grandpaw, Hen, Joe, Daphne, Maggie, The Twins and The Bairn. The comic strips have spawned a number of books and of course there’s the Broons Annual. What caught my eye was Maw Broon’s Cookbook (4), a facsimile edition of the her cookbook full of probably quite unhealthy recipes which Maw Broon has gathered over the years, along with a few comic strips, occasional food stains and bits stuck in with old sticky tape. There’s some really good stuff in there, but not if you are on a diet or are keen on healthy eating. The best review was in the Guardian Food Doctor section. You can find out more on The Broons and get some desktop wallpaper too at their website.


A very different piece of fantasy fiction

Provided you are not put off by the length of a book and you want something quite different from the mainstream fantasy fiction, this book may be for you. In Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (5) by Susanna Clarke we are taken back to the early nineteenth century when nobody believes in practical magic any longer. Mr Norrell, a magician living in Yorkshire is determined to prove that magic is still alive and well and makes his magical powers available to the government of the day, which is embroiled in a lengthy war with France. To convince the government that he really does have magical powers, Mr Norrell agrees reluctantly to bring back to life the, recently deceased fiancee of a member of the cabinet, Sir Walter Pole. Unfortunately this has a very strange effect on some of Sir Walter’s servants and others close to him. Mr Norrell is determined to keep the magical powers to himself and tries to chase out of town any who profess to be of similar abilities. He appears to be succeeding, but then along comes Jonathan Strange. Don’t be put off by the length of the book (the paperback is over 1000 pages) or the Dickensian style of the text – or the numerous footnotes –  it’s quite spellbinding.


1. Buster’s Secret Diaries as discovered by Roy Hattersley, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 9780297852162  £9.99

2 Buster’s Diaries by Roy Hattersley.   Little, Brown  £7.99 9780751533316

3 Borrowed Time: the story of Britain between the wars by Roy Hattersley, Little, Brown £20. 9780316730327


4 Maw Broon’s Cookbook  Waverley Books  £9.95   9781902407456


5. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by  Susanna Clarke    Bloomsbury £8.99 9780747579885


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