Posted by: billpurdue | January 5, 2010

81 Happy New Year!

I hope you all had a good break and managed to get some reading done. Unfortunately the time I had for reading over the holidays was rather limited, so I’m only half way through a book which I had hoped to have finished by now. Matthew Engel’s Eleven Minutes Late [ paperback ed. due out in February: Pan £8.99 9780330512374] is subtitled “a train journey to the soul of Britain” In it Engel tries to demonstrate that railways have suffered from “perhaps the longest running policy disaster in the world”. He begins with a journey on a train run by a new company that is connecting Wrexham and Shrewsbury to London on a direct service, but points out all the absurdities involved, like stopping at certain stations for setting down only and not being able to call at others.

Engel then writes about various events in the history of the railways in Britain which illustrate how bad decisions  affected the railways long term. He begins with the first railway fatality at the Rainhill trials when a member of the Cabinet, William Huskisson was mown down by Stephenson’s “Rocket”. Other topics covered are the appalling conditions that railway passengers had to endure in the nineteenth century, until some enlightened person at the Midland Railway Company decided to upgrade third class accommodation and abolish second class carriages, thus forcing competing companies to follow suit. He also describes the indelicate matter of how passengers in non-corridor coaches coped with going to the loo en route – don’t ask: read the book! Gradually we are brought up to date with the cock-ups performed by a succession of Ministers of Transport. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book. It’s got humour, nuggets of railway and general British history and Matthew Engel knows what he’s talking about.

Now here’s something for all those who like dog stories, but from an unexpected source. Dean Koontz is of course world famous for his horror fiction, but his first ever non-fiction book is about his dog. In A Big Little Life [HarperCollins £7.99 9780007336821] Dean writes about his dog Trixie and the joy she gave him. Reading this deeply moving book will, according to all reports, mean that you will need a box of handkerchiefs at the ready.

I was in one of the Waterstone’s shops in Glasgow just before Christmas and happened to see another in the growing series of spin-offs from “The Broons” strip cartoon series. I’m not quite sure which is the latest one, but Maw Broon’s Remedies An’ Suchlike: My Wee Book O’ Bits and Pieces [Waverley books £9.99 978-1902407951] is pretty new. It has a host of remedies which Maw Broon at No 10 Glebe Street has used to cure all manner of ills, remove stains and such like. The format is similar to the Cookbook with Maw’s own handwriting and cuttings from old newspapers and magazines which appear to be stuck in with sticky tape. I’m not sure how useful this book is, but it is sure to appeal to all fans of The Broons

Later on, in a garden centre (where you are almost bound to find a book section ) I found The Broons’ Book of Gairdenin’ Wisdoms (gardening to Sassenachs)[ Waverley Books £9.99 9781902407982], a book crammed with all sorts of useful gardening advice along with some humour and you don’t have to live in Scotland to appreciate it.

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