Posted by: billpurdue | January 20, 2012

Portillo on the train again

I can’t say that I approve of his taste in sports jackets, but I am enjoying Michael Portillo’s new series of Great British Railway Journeys on BBC2. Like the last series, there is a book to go with it, but this time there’s a difference. Great Victorian Railway Journeys: How Modern Britain was Built by Victorian Steam Power [Collins £20 9780007457069]by Karen Farrington is out this week. The book follows the routes taken by Mr Portillo in this, the 3rd series of Great British Rail Journeys, but the text and the illustrations concentrate on the history of the routes rather than a comparison between their appearance in Bradshaw’s time and the subsequent changes that have taken place. By the way, look out for big discounts on the price.


Karen Farrington has several other books to her name: Mayday! Mayday!: The History of Sea Rescue Around Britain’s Coastal Waters by Karen Farrington and Nick Constable and Great Lives: As heard on Radio 4, the book accompanying the programme of the same name, which has an introduction by Matthew Parris, the presenter of the programme.


The 20th Century author Stella Gibbons is chiefly remembered for her comic novel Cold Comfort Farm [Penguin £8.99 978-1856132749] ,(remember “something nasty in the woodshed”?) but did you know that she wrote 31 other novels?


At Christmas I was given a copy of Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm [Vintage, £7.99 9780099528678] a collection of short stories by Gibbons. Now, I’m not normally a short story reader, but I’m really enjoying reading this book. Apart from the one story about the Starkadder family’s preparations for Christmas (wondering who is going to find the strange objects in the pudding – a coffin nail meaning that person hasn’t long to live or the finder of the bad sixpence is destined to lose all his money in the coming year), most of the stories are not set at Christmas time. There’s the married woman who decides to invite some of her friends she used to associate with before her marriage for the weekend and discovers what a ghastly mistake she has made. Then there is the spinster who takes pity on a girl in the village who has had a child born out of wedlock, by employing her as domestic, but is ostracised by the rest of the villagers.


This collection of stories was published in 1940 and the stories are set in the 1930s and mainly about the well to do. They are quite short and always come to a satisfying but sometimes unexpected conclusion. They are often about relationships, particularly within the family and the main character is always female, except for the one Cold Comfort Farm story.

The book is one of several which have been reprinted by Vintage and given attractive covers. For a lengthy and informative article about Stella Gibbons and the books in the series, have a look at this Guardian article.

Next time : Downton Abbey has revived interest in a book about life below stairs at Rufford Abbey.


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