Posted by: billpurdue | January 15, 2009

38 The sea …. and balderdash and piffle

We move from the sublime to the ridiculous this time. I’ll begin with a book, the like of which I don’t think I’ve read before…

Salt by Jeremy Page

Salt by Jeremy Page [Penguin £7.99 9780141027708] is set in the bleak watery, marshy landscape of North Norfolk where the weather and the sea play a big part in people’s lives. The narrator, Pip, begins his story many years before he is born – during the second world war –  when his grandmother, known as Goose,  finds a German airman buried up to his neck in a sand dune. She rescues the man and takes him back to her lonely cottage on the marshes. Together they have a child, a daughter, who is born the day the airman, called Hands, decides to leave on a small boat to the sound of distant church bells ringing out to signal the end of hostilities.

Pip is trying to sort out his family history: the reasons why his mother walked out on the ice covered fenland drain one day and eventually drowned and the reasons behind his father’s alcoholism. He has only one real friend, Elsie, but it eventually becomes apparent that she may actually be his sister.

Salt is tremendously atmospheric: having visited that part of the world on several occasions the descriptions of  the North Norfolk coastal landscape and the Fens ring very true. It’s full of vivid descriptions of the flat marshy land, the clouds, the sea and most of all the people. The clouds are closely watched, not just for signs of changes in the weather, but for signs of things to come. One or two critics have used the word “funny” in their comments about this book: I didn’t find it amusing, but the more I  read the more I wanted to read. Not a book to cheer you up on a dull day, but a  compelling portrait of a unique area.

Wordsmiths amongst you will no doubt, like me, have watched both series of “Balderdash and Piffle” on the telly, when Victoria Coren delighted in presenting the boffins at the Oxford English Dictionary with evidence to prove that the provenance of certain words went back in time further than stated in the published dictionary. Both of the two series of programmes spawned a book: the first – Balderdash and Piffle by Alex Games [ BBC Books £12.99 9780563493365]  is still available and well worth having.  It’s described as “an entertaining romp” through the English language and also touches on the history of the OED itself. I have a copy of that, but I recently picked up the second volume: Balderdash and Piffle: One sandwich short of a dog’s dinner [BBC Books £9.99 9781846072352] also by Alex Games. This is slightly different in that each chapter deals with a group of very similar words and phrases. For example, chapter 4 “Man’s best friend” is all about the word ‘dog’ or ‘doggy’ and all sorts of associated words, whilst chapter 6 is  about insults and put-downs.

If you’re waiting for the ‘ridiculous ‘ bit, then we’re nearly there! How often have you wished that the world was rid of someone or something that really gets your goat? Well, As a Dodo by George Poles and Simon Littlefield [Summersdale £9.99 9781840246025] might just help you to let off steam. It’s a succession of mock obituaries for anything and everything that youeither love or hate. If you thumb through this book, you’re sure to find something that you wish had never seen the light of day (eg Celebrity Big Brother)  or someone you can’t stand (eg Jeremy Clarkson). It’s pretty amusing, though I didn’t find it laugh-out-loud funny, but well worth a good look and maybe a good present for someone who is always complaining about something. Find out a bit more by logging on to the “As a Dodo” website

Now for the really ridiculous – there are lots of those “..before you die” type books around, but now comes a book about the things you don’t want to do: Sod that!: 103 things not to do before you die by Sam Jordison [ Orion £9.99 9781409100553]  A quick flick through the book was enough for me – I think I can decide what I don’t want to do thank you, without being told in very brief chapters by someone else. There’s a video clip of the author reading from the book on the page advertising his book on Amazon, but it won’t tell you anything about the book. He is shown reading his book, but not out loud!

Next time a really good biography of a coal miner and mail order remainder booksellers.


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