Posted by: billpurdue | February 26, 2012

A Journey round our Coast

I had a cold last week, so I’ve spent more time reading than usual and the book I’ve concentrated on is Coast: our Island Story by Nick Crane [BBC Books, £18.99 9781849900362 – a paperback edition is due in June]. Fans of the BBC 2 series “Coast” will know all about this and will know who Nick Crane is. In addition to being one of the presenters of the programme, he is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Vice President of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.

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Nick Crane’s book looks at all the aspects of our coast – beginning with how it was formed in the first place , followed by the coastal waters as a source of food, the ports and trade with other countries, defending our shores, wrecking and smuggling (a particularly long chapter), navigation and safety at sea – lighthouses, the RNLI and other organisations – the rise of coastal resorts and finally sacred sites around the shores and conservation matters. In short, a very comprehensive and absorbing read.

Compiling this book must have involved a tremendous amount of research. It’s packed with such a lot of information, but in a very digestable format. From time to time Nick Crane recalls specially memorable occasions during filming for “Coast” at a particular site and the book is peppered with humour throughout. But there are so many episodes or simply fascinating facts that the author has uncovered, that I would need to reread the book several times to appreciate them all.

Here are just a couple of things; it was as early as 1914 when the first air raid took place on a British town – Great Yarmouth in fact. “In the Fish Wharf Refreshment Rooms a lady pianist was blown off her piano stool and down three stairs” but elsewhere in the town there were two fatalities. In the early 20th Century, people had taken to performing public stunts known as “bicycle diving”. ‘Enterprising nutcases’, as Crane calls them, would simply cycle off the end of the pier into the water in front of a large crowd. One of these individuals fitted his bike with floats and cycled across the Bristol Channel and “prided himself on being unable to swim”. Well, it took, and still takes, all sorts…

This is the sort of book that should be bought (rather than borrowed) and read ‘gradually’ – I mean, by reading a chapter at a time and perhaps reading something else in between. There’s such a lot in it – highly recommended.

Just Out

Here are just a few new titles: I haven’t seen them myself, so I’ve included some quotes from other reviews.

ImageWhat the grown-ups were doing: an odyssey through 1950s suburbia by Michele Hanson [BBC Books £14.99 978-0857204882]

an amusing chronicle of strange goings-on in Fifties suburbia” (Daily Telegraph)

The Trials and Triumphs of Les Dawson by Louis Barfe [Atlantic £19.99 978-1848872509] “Louis Barfe’s biography is at its most fascinating when it tackles the early Dawson, young Les in search of a break and not, for a second, knowing where to find it” (The Observer).

Annie Proulx: Bird Cloud [new in paperback: Fourth Estate £8.99 978-0007231997] “how a great and ageing American writer came across a 640-acre spread of land in Wyoming, bought it and set about designing and building (more accurately, having people build) her ideal house on it. Books are like homes, too, and within 10 pages of crossing the threshold of this one readers will put up their feet, secure in the knowledge that they won’t be moving on to another any time soon.” (Guardian).

I’m reading English Passengers by Matthew Kneale – of which more in a future post.

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