Posted by: billpurdue | April 24, 2011

What I was reading on holiday

A book about someone’s collection of tiny carved objects may at first seem a little bit specialised. However I had heard and read good things about The Hare with Amber Eyes [ Vintage £8.99 978-0099539551] by Edmund de Waal, that I thought it worth requesting from my local library. It so happened that the first chance I got to start reading the book coincided with readings of excerpts  on BBC Radio 4. (As of Easter Sunday, all 5 episodes were available on the BBC iplayer)


Edmund de Waal is a potter. He is very interested in whether and how objects can hold memories. He is the custodian of 264 netsuke, tiny carvings from ivory, wood and other materials, small enough to put in your pocket. These were passed on to him by his great uncle Iggie who lived in Japan and were originally bought by one of his very wealthy ancestors, Charles Ephrussi, in nineteenth century Paris.


Unfortunately I have not read more than  a quarter of the book and will have to take it back to the library as it is requested by another reader, so I haven’t reached what appear to be the more interesting parts. The author has set out to trace the history of the netsuke as they were passed down through the generations of this Jewish dynasty. It is not only a history of the precious objects, but a history of a family too. Maybe I’ll be able to finish reading it at a later date.


I’ve been to Wales this week – to Porthmadog to be precise. And, as any rail enthusiast knows, that’s the terminus of both the Ffestiniog and the Welsh Highland Railways. By chance I was on hand at Pont Croesor, just a mile or two from Porthmadog, on Wednesday morning, when a ceremony to mark the official opening of the final section of the recently completed Welsh Highland Railway was held. Pont Croesor has been the terminus of the railway from Carnarfon for the past 15 months, the final section to Porthmadog, which includes two level crossings – one road and one rail – took a long time to complete.


The history of the railway goes back into the 19th century and a number of books have chronicled its rise and fall and resurrection. The latest book to appear is the second edition of the Illustrated History of the Welsh Highland Railway by Peter Johnson [OPC £19.99 978-0860936268]. I managed to get a quick look at this book at a station bookshop and it looked pretty good, but according to one Amazon reviewer the history was “70% political”, so it looks like you might be disappointed if you want plenty of information about the locomotives and engineering works.


A series of books about the line from  Past and Present Publishing  might provide a rather different point of view.  However it seems that the latest volume The Welsh Highland Railway: v. 3: Ain’t No Stopping Us Now! [ P&P £17.99 978-1858952598]by John Stretton is more about the line itself with plenty of “then and now” photographs.


Wednesday was also the 175th anniversary of the opening of the Ffestiniog Railway. If that’s where your interest lies , then the latest in the Silver Link “Recollections” series, The Ffestiniog Railway – Recollections [Silver Link  £5.99, 978-1857943726] by John Stretton, came out on 12th April. Complete with two locos on the front cover and some ladies in period costume, this is another in the successful recollections series which numbers around 20 or more titles. Of course there are many more books about this railway, the next most recent of which appears to be An Illustrated History of the Ffestiniog Railway  by Peter Johnson [OPC £19.99 978-0860936039]



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