Posted by: billpurdue | May 10, 2013

Fiction, with some real characters thrown in

If you're reading thisLast time I mentioned a book I’d just read – “If You’re Reading this, I’m Already Dead” by Andrew Nicoll. I think it’s probably true to say that haven’t read anything quite like this before. The narrator of the story is Otto Witte who is sitting in his old caravan during an Allied air raid on a German city expecting any minute to be sent to Kingdom Come. He needs to set down the story of his youthful escapades as a circus trapeze artist, at the time when his friends spotted a newspaper story about a Turkish prince who had been offered the throne of Albania. The prince in the picture looks remarkably like Otto, so Otto and his four circus friends decide to have a go at reaching Albania before the prince gets there and claiming the throne for himself.

So, having stolen the circus cashbox and a very nice camel (nice according to Max the circus strongman) Otto and his friends bluff their way to Albania. I’ll leave you to find out how they got on. I really enjoyed the book, though there was one passage which I found too long: I can’t tell you which as it would reveal too much of the story-  ie. whether or not Otto gets to be crowned. Some of the characters are taken from real life, such as Ahmet Zogolli and the mysterious Mrs MacLeod or, from John Buchan’s novels, Sandy Arbuthnot. So if you want a story that’s different and absorbing with a plenty of surprises along the way, try this.


How Britain got to be the way it is today

britainetcMark Easton is a regular on the main BBC news programmes. He’s the BBC’s Home Editor and comments on all things to do with social affairs, national statistics, social trends, crime and so on, but not normally the high profile trials. His book “Britain etc”, says Euan Ferguson in The Guardian, could easily have been another rehash of who the Brits are and what we (are supposed to) stand for. Instead, he calls it a ‘terrific read’ and I’m inclined to agree. There are 26 chapters, one for each letter of the alphabet, such as J is for Justice, G is for Grass (all about the origins of public green spaces and the state of them today), X is for XXXX – I’m sure you can guess what that is all about. I was particularly struck by H is for Happiness – I think all politicians should read that chapter as well as all bankers, economists and anyone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. I should point out that Mark is not expressing his personal opinions here, just telling it the way it is.

Unfortunately I had to return it to the library before I’d finished it as someone else had requested it. I hope the requester finds it as good as I did.

A favorite topic for correspondence

Leaves on the lineI wasn’t as impressed by the next book : “Leaves on the Line – letters on trains to the Daily Telegraph” edited by Gavin Fuller. As you might expect it’s a collection of correspondence on railway matters, not exactly from ‘Disgusted’ of Tonbridge Wells, but almost. The topics that have prompted Telegraph readers to put pen to paper over the last century are very varied, but not as fascinating as I thought they might be. They include the predictable topic of food on the railways, but also the livery which the newly nationalized British Railways decided to apply to their carriages, men asking for ‘men only’ compartments, women complaining about the type of tobacco smoked by men in the compartments and much more. One Amazon reviewer came to the same conclusion as me, but continued reading and reported that it got better later on. Maybe I should have kept on reading.


  1. Otto Witte. Acrobat of Hamburg. King of Albania. Sitting in his caravan, drinking what is left of his coffee (dust), Otto has narrowly escaped death at the hands of allied bombs. Convinced his luck has run out and he will not see morning, he decides to record the story of his life for the poor soul who finds his body. And what a story it is. Years earlier, when he was in either Buda or Pest, working at the circus, a newspaper article was brought to his attention. Why? Because in it was a picture of a particular Turkish prince, called to Albania to be their new king. And this prince just so happened to bear a striking resemblance to Otto . . . A plan is formed, adventure is born and with the help of Otto’s friends, enemies (and a camel), Otto is about to give the performance of his life.

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