Posted by: billpurdue | May 8, 2015

Barbara Pym, Greenpeace, little railway stations and more…

… but first, a postscript to my writings about Iris Origo, who wrote the diary of her experiences in Italy in 1943-4, “War in Val d’Orcia”. Browsing through the latest monthly catalogue from Bibliophile Books, the discount book retailer, I found this: “Iris Origo, Marchesa of Val d’Orcia” by Caroline Moorehead. This is a biography of Iris Origo, beginning (according to the description in the catalogue) with her introduction, in 1920, at the age of 18 to an Italian, ten years older than herself, Antonio Origo. The book draws on many unpublished letters and papers and also includes the period when she was writing the diary. It’s available from Bibliophile Books for £3.75.

Iris Origo


 Don't trust

The arrest of 30 Greenpeace protesters in September 2013 by the Russian authorities made headlines all round the world. They were scaling a Russian oil platform in the Arctic waters. The plan was to attach a Greenpeace pod to Gazprom’s platform and launch a peaceful protest against oil being pumped from the icy waters of the Arctic. The ‘Arctic 30’ as they came to be known, were charged with piracy and faced the prospect of fifteen years in a Russian prison. Their story is now available in a book called “Don’t trust, Don’t fear, Don’t beg”. It’s written by Ben Stewart, who led the global campaign to free the group. It’s published by Faber and costs £12.99.

Barbara Pym


A friend recommended that I try reading books by Barbara Pym, so I did – and I really enjoyed my first Barbara Pym novel. The one I chose was “Some Tame Gazelle”. The central characters are sisters Harriet and Belinda Bede. I suppose the surname gives you a kind of clue as to what sort of book it is – Bede reminds me of the Venerable Bede with the inevitable religious connotations. The sisters’ lives revolve around the affairs of the parish, or rather the affairs of those chiefly concerned with the parish church and all that goes with it – the Archdeacon (no mere vicar in this case), the curate, the Archdeacon’s wife and the neighbours. Harriet loves to make a fuss of new curates, whilst her sister, being an old friend of the Archdeacon, is still very fond of him, even though it’s thirty years since they were students together. What’s more he is married, but that doesn’t put her off thinking about what if… Then there are endless streams of eligible bachelors, who seem to think that it’s fine to propose marriage after only one or two meetings.

On one level you could class this novel with the Miss Read type of book, but that would do it an injustice. There’s some very subtle humour here and some fascinating characters. It’s not the kind of book that I normally read, but I really enjoyed it. For a more in depth review, try Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Finally, to railway stations.


I’m talking about the tiniest railway stations, that is. A chap named Dixe Wills (no, not Dixie) has written a book called “Tiny Stations”, which Christian Wolmar has described as “a delightful exploration of the byways of the railway system”. In the book, the author embarks on a very roundabout journey across Britain’s railway system to find some of the smallest stations and discover the reasons for their existence. He begins in the South west, travels up through Wales, then down to London, East Anglia, the NorthWest and finishes at Altnabreac in north east Scotland. The stations visited include Sugar Loaf (Wales), Berney Arms (Norfolk) LlanfairPG (Anglesey) and Dunrobin Castle.

I read a few chapters, but then I began to think “What is the point of this book?” and couldn’t really find an answer. It’s certainly not written from the point of view of a railway enthusiast or even someone interested in railways (there is a difference). So, I gave up reading, but I might keep it out from the library a bit longer and read a bit further just to see if the book improves as it goes along.

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