Posted by: billpurdue | February 6, 2015

I’m getting to like John Buchan’s novels

I had a distant relation who sadly passed away in 2013, who was a great fan of the novels of John Buchan. Whilst it would have been nice to ask her what she personally thought of the John Buchan’s work, it was too late to do so by the time I discovered her preference for his books. I now have several of the Buchan novels which belonged to her and, having now read two of them, I am beginning to find out what they are like  and to perhaps understand what she saw in them. I think she was collecting them, judging by the ticks alongside the titles in a list opposite the title page in her copy of “The Gap in the Curtain”.

 

The first Buchan novel I read was “Greenmantle’, one of the ‘John Hannay’ novels and possibly as popular as his most famous novel “The 39 Steps”. “The Gap in the Curtain” is quite a different story, being described as a novel of the supernatural.

Buchan Gap

Set vaguely at sometime in the late 1920s (published in 1932), it is narrated by Sir Edward Leithen. It begins at one of those weekend house parties at a large house in the Cotswolds, when Sir Edward and five other guests are invited by the strange Professor Moe to take part in an experiment to see into the future by seeing momentarily a page of the Times newspaper one year ahead.

 

Whilst Sir Edward manages to keep his head and doesn’t abandon himself to the experiment wholeheartedly, five of them do succeed in being able to read a page of the Times for a year ahead. Two of these actually read their own obituaries.

 

The rest of the novel follows the fortunes of each of these five in turn, a chapter being given over to each one. I won’t be giving away what actually happens to them, but I have to admit that I did find the book held my attention more than “Greenmantle”. I do have a sort of fascination for novels set in that period between the wars. The upper echelons of society in which the protagonist and all the other characters move does make the story seem to me one step removed from what you might call “real life”. Some of the expressions and words which Buchan uses are no longer found in novels today and before reading this novel, were slightly off-putting for me. However now I will look forward to reading another Buchan novel. For more about John Buchan, go to http://www.johnbuchansociety.co.uk/. There’s also a museum which explores his life and writings in Peebles, Scotland.

[NB the cover image above is one of the latest editions]

 

A history of Royal Mail

 

I recently purchased a comprehensive history of Royal Mail entitled “Masters of the Post” by Duncan Campbell-Smith. It’s quite a hefty tome with well over 800 pages, but if the reviews from Amazon customers are anything to go by, it has been very well received. I haven’t yet started reading it, though I have dipped into it and what I found makes me want to read more. It was published in 2011, so of course it won’t include the privatisation of Royal Mail. There are 4 sections (in the paperback edition) of photographs and other illustrations.

 masters-of-the-post_pb_sml

If you don’t mind the paperback edition, you can get it for a bargain price from Postscript Books (psbooks.co.uk). It will cost you just £6.99 plus P&P. Oh, and by the way, the novel “Gap in the Curtain” is also in the latest Postscript catalogue, priced at £2.99

 

 

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Posted by: billpurdue | January 11, 2015

Well done, Derbyshire!

I have been very remiss recently in not making any posts. I have had a number of personal commitments which have prevented me from writing about what I read, but I am hopeful that, with the start of 2015, I can get back on track.

I’ll start with some news about Derbyshire Libraries, which I think other library authorities should take note of .

Derbyshire County Council has announced that it is challenging adults in the county to do more reading. Many public libraries regularly run a reading challenge for children during the long summer school holidays, when children receive certificates or prizes for reading a certain number of books. Derbyshire is the only county library I know of that is challenging adults to read. The last challenge for adults in Derbyshire was in 2013, when more than 1000 people took part.

Between January and March this year, anyone over 16 can enter the challenge. They need to read one book from each of these categories:

  • Discover a New Skill – begin a new hobby or learn a new skill
  • Discover New Knowledge – read any type of book based on a true event
  • Discover a New Category of Book – try a different type of book
  • Discover a New Author – read a book by an author you haven’t read before.

The challenge encourages readers to jot down their thoughts about them in an Adult Reading Challenge (ARC) diary. They can also chat with other participants about their chosen books on Twitter. ARC diaries can be entered into a free prize draw. So that’s one up for Derbyshire

I have never read any myself, but Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” mysteries are massively popular in the USA and over here. In the ‘i’ paper for 6th January there was a feature about the way that Child writes his books. Every 1st September he sits down at his computer to begin a new novel. The article is by Andy Martin who asked if he could come and look over his shoulder. The article reveals a bit about Child’s attitude to his writing and the opinion of other writers on his phenomenal success.

Now, back briefly to what I have been reading…

21 D NobbsBuchan Gap

 I have now finished “The Second life of Sally Mottram” by David Nobbs and I will write about that next time. I am also reading “The Gap in the Curtain” by John Buchan, a book which belonged to a distant relation of mine, who was a keen fan of this author. The only other book by Buchan which I have read is “Greenmantle”, a very different sort of book. I’ll write about “The Gap…” soon.

Posted by: billpurdue | December 6, 2014

Disappointing reads

It’s not often that I give up on reading a book about a third of the way through, but that’s what I did with “Cupid’s Dart” by David Nobbs. This is a great pity because I have always been a great admirer of his books, ever since the Reggie Perrin series in the 1970s and the Henry Pratt series of books from the 1980s. I even bought the hardback edition of “Second from last in the Sack Race”, the first in the Pratt series which tells of his very early life in a suburb of Sheffield in the 1930s.

 Cupids dart

I think the reason why I left off reading this book was that the subject matter just wasn’t what I wanted to read about. It’s very well written and there’s plenty of humour, though not the laugh out loud sort. It tells of a philosophy don from Oxford, 55 and a virgin, who meets a mid-twenties darts groupie Essex girl on a train. They have an affair, with all the difficulties and embarrassments associated with the difference in age, outlook and experience which you might imagine.

Much more my line, I expect, is the latest from David Nobbs: “The Second Life of Sally Mottram”, described as “a rich, moving and optimistic tale of one woman’s courage and determination, and the amazing affect this has on the struggling town, with its silted-up canal and its boarded-up pubs”. I now have a copy of that on loan from my local library and will report in a future post.

 

This next title was also a little disappointing, but I did read it to the end. Have you ever wondered whether the Queen is getting fed up with her role as Head of State and longs for anonymity? Well, this book “The Autobiography of the Queen”, by Emma Tennant, imagines how she would go about leaving the throne and disappearing from the headlines. With only a small suitcase of clothes and a handbag containing air tickets and some emeralds and a passport in the name of Mrs Gloria Smith (obtained for her by Brno, the footman and best forger in the business), the Queen slips away, without even telling Prince Philip, on a flight to the Caribbean.

 The Queen

The Queen, aka Mrs Smith, was expecting to take possession of a nice little bungalow in which to retreat and write her autobiography, but the bungalow turns out to be still a hole in the ground. Instead she has to stay at an upmarket hotel in the vicinity and makes friends with a young man by the name of Austin Ford, taxi driver and proprietor of a beachside bar. Meanwhile the hunt is on for the Queen.

I felt this book missed a few opportunities and occasionally stretched the credulity of the reader a little too much. There is a turning point in the narrative when the Queen realizes that she would really rather return to her life at Buckingham Palace, but I didn’t feel that the reason is clear. It also gives the impression that the Queen, outside her usual comfort zone, makes rather stupid decisions. I am sure she has much more common sense than that.

I quite enjoyed the book, but felt that something was lacking. Catherine Bennett in The Guardian has compared Emma Tennant’s book with Alan Bennett’s “An Uncommon Reader”. Of the two, I much prefer the latter.

Emma Tenant is the author of many books, including “Pemberley – or Pride and Prejudice Continued” and “The Ballad of Sylvia and Ted”, a fictional re-creation of the marriage and separation of poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.

Posted by: billpurdue | November 22, 2014

Catching up on modern classics

It’s taking me some time, but I am gradually working my way through a collection of novels (with a few non-fiction), which were published by the Companion Book Club in the 1950s. For several years, my parents subscribed to this book club and amassed quite a collection, some of which I have disposed of. The latest title I have read is by Daphne Du Maurier (1907-1989) and is called “Mary Anne”.

 

This is a fictionalized account of the life of Du Maurier’s great great grandmother Mary Anne Clarke, nee Thompson (1776-1852). The first chapter concerns what is in effect the end of the story, a clever writer’s ploy to get the reader interested in all the characters who will appear later in the story. Mary’s childhood is the subject of chapter 2 where she shows early signs of being able to stand on her own two feet. Her stepfather, being a proof reader for a printer of halfpenny pamphlets, falls ill and is unable to work for a period. Mary Anne, a quick learner, knew how to imitate his writing and, more importantly, how to correct copy. In this way she did the proof reading and saved the family from ruin whilst her father was ill.

 

Before her 18th birthday she had married a stonemason, named Joseph Clarke, a man who came from rich parents who wanted him to learn a trade rather than rely entirely on his inheritance. Needless to say that he didn’t get on well as a stonemason and eventually went bankrupt. Mary Anne decided to leave him with her children and went on to have several liaisons with prominent men. Then she came to the attention of Frederick, Duke of York, who took her as his mistress. As the Duke was at that time Commander in Chief of the army, she was able to sell commissions with the Duke of York’s knowledge. As Mary Anne had led the Duke to believe that she was a widow, the sudden unwelcome appearance of Joseph prompts the Duke to cut ties with her and take another mistress.

Cover-of-Mary-Anne

The book reads just like a novel. It was only the rather inconclusive ending that led me to wonder if it might be a fictionalised biography. “Mary Anne “, first published in the 1950s, is still available as a paperback or ebook published by Little, Brown.

 

The UK belongs to others

 

“The fat cats are getting fatter” – so runs the headline to a feature in the ‘i’ paper for November 21st. This seems to be a symptom of increasing interest, cultivated by such campaigning organisations as ‘38 degrees’ and ‘We Own It,’ in who runs our public services and more importantly who owns them. A new book “Private Island: why Britain now belongs to someone else” by James Meek is possibly part of this trend. It makes sobering reading. Each chapter deals with the major industries which were previously in public hands, but have now been sold off to or are being run by hedge funds, individual investors and even publicly owned industries from other countries.

 

Beginning with postal services, Meek describes the situation in Holland where postal services are now run by three (previously 4) different companies. Some areas might have up to 3 postal deliveries a day, each from a separate postal company. He visits a postal worker at her home where she has to sort the mail allocated to her before delivering it round the streets, when she has the time. She admits that she is getting behind and a backlog is mounting up. The pay isn’t good either: apparently postal workers’ jobs are advertised as being suitable for part timers, retired people or students. Could our Royal Mail soon be like that?

 

Meek goes on to deal with Britain’s railways, water supply, electricity, health and housing. It’s a sorry tale of mismanagement, greed, and lowering standards, but it’s much more complex than that. Here are just a few examples of the consequences of the privatization: according to Meek, EDF, one of the major electricity suppliers in the UK is actually a publicly owned French company; the privatized company Railtrack (before it went under and was replaced by Network Rail) was actually planning to re-signal the West Coast main line using a totally untried and untested system called “moving block”; Thames Water is currently owned by an investment consortium headed by an Australian investment bank (only one of the several members of the consortium is based in the UK). By the way Meek does of course admit that mismanagement is not confined to the private sector, but his main message is that keeping those industries could have avoided some of the worst excesses of the new companies and also that our national assets such as electricity and water should not end up in foreign hands.

 Private Island

As if to underline all this, a headline in the same edition of the ‘i’ newspaper yesterday read “Revealed: huge profits from public services end up in foreign hands”. This book is a real eye opener, though many who read it will only have their suspicions confirmed. It makes gripping reading too, unlike some other titles on this topic. James Meek has also written a number of novels and some short stories, so he knows how to put a sentence together. Highly recommended.

Posted by: billpurdue | October 31, 2014

John and George

Being a dog lover, a book with a photo of a dog on the cover is always bound to attract my attention. On this particular book, a mainly white Staffordshire Bull Terrier is staring straight at the camera with head cocked to one side in that endearing pose which dogs often adopt when listening to someone. The dog here is George and the book is “John and George, the dog who changed my life” by John Dolan.

JohnandGeorge

To tell the truth, I had read about the book and had already requested this book at the library, so I didn’t need a nice picture to persuade me. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was a very rewarding read.

John Dolan is a critically acclaimed artist, but a few years back, things were not like that at all. John had a happy childhood with mum and dad and brothers and sisters in East London – until age 10, when his father took him on one side to tell him that he and his ‘mum’ were actually his grandparents. Someone he had been calling his aunt was actually his mother. It was from that time onwards he began to go off the rails. His misdemeanors began with truancy, then glue sniffing and petty crime and there were spells of homelessness and spells in prison.

Then, when Dolan gave shelter to a homeless young couple with a dog, things began to change. The couple were offered a flat, but weren’t allowed to take the dog, so the dog, George, was offered to John. John and George began to form a bond and John realized that if he ever got involved in crime again, he might lose him, so that was the turning point.

John and George (photo from businesslife.ba.com

John and George (photo from businesslife.ba.com)

John had always been interested in drawing, right from childhood, when he used to copy pictures of comic book characters. To try to earn some cash, he decided to sit on the pavement on Shoreditch High Street, with George at his side, and begin drawing what he saw around him. It wasn’t long before people began to take notice of what he was doing and word got around. He found that passers-by wanted to buy his drawings for a few pounds. Then one day a gallery director, Richard Howard-Griffin, asked him if he would draw some large streetscapes for him. One thing led to another and eventually he was offered the chance of an exhibition at Howard-Griffin’s gallery.

Dolan’s book which is really an autobiography, tells about his upbringing, his family relationship, his drug habit and the rest. It’s a quick read, but a very worthwhile one: I found myself willing John Dolan all the success that he and George deserve.

For a detailed review, go to http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/19/john-dolan-homeless-addict-to-artist-and-author

Posted by: billpurdue | October 18, 2014

Can Men Like Chick Lit?

Well, I’ve done it – I’ve read an example of chick lit. Or at least that’s what I discovered from a review of the book “What would Mary Berry Do?” by Claire Sandy when I’d nearly finished it. According to Wikipedia, chick lit is “genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly”. The reason why I wanted to read this book in the first place was that it was billed as a funny book and secondly, I am a fan of the BBC series “The Great British Bake Off”, in which (for those unfamiliar with this series) several contestants compete for the winner of the series by baking all kinds of cakes, pastries and so on. The two judges of the series are Paul Hollywood, author of several books on bread and pastries and Mary Berry, a well established author of many different cookery books, including “Mary Berry’s Fast Cakes”.

 Mary berry

There’s more to just baking in Claire Sandy’s book. The central character is Marie, happily married to Robert with a teenage son, Angus, and younger twin daughters. Marie runs her own dental practice, but another dentist has set up shop opposite and threatens to poach her customers. Marie has decided she is going to learn from Mary Berry’s books how to be an expert cake maker, but Lucy who lives across the road always seems to be a better baker than her. Husband Robert, a buyer for a department store fears that his job may be in danger. Son Angus is conducting an email relationship with a girl from Scotland, or so it seems and the twin girls get up to all sorts of mischief. Marie and Lucy begin the story as arch rivals, but a dramatic turn of events leads to them becoming firm friends.

So there’s lots going on in the book, including a good dose of scandal and plenty of cake baking, but don’t worry, there aren’t any actual recipes. I would describe it as a story of suburban life with some of the hard edges smoothed off. I didn’t find it especially funny, but I wanted to read to the end. So, although the book is aimed at the female audience, males might just like it too.

Inaccuracies and misspellings.

 A non-fiction book with absolutely no mistakes or spelling errors is a rare book indeed, but how many errors does a book have to have to make it one to avoid like the plague? Michael Smith’s “Nottinghamshire Miscellany” gets dangerously close in my humble opinion. I think that most of the errors in the book are editing errors, but I could be wrong. In some parts of the book there seems to be very few, but when you come across things like the name Southall, when it clearly should say Southwell, you tend to get worried. There are other misspellings of local place names, such as Annersley instead of Annesley and Mansley instead of Mansey (a nature reserve near Eakring).

 notts miscellany

Other types of errors are to be found in the “Notable Buildings” section where there are two entries for Papplewick Pumping Station on opposite pages and, in a list of Nottinghamshire musicians, the pianist John Ogden  (born in Mansfield Woodhouse) gets no mention at all. What’s more, there is no index, a serious omission. Where did it all go wrong? I’d love to know.

In spite of all that, I still felt it was worth buying, but only at the bargain price of £2.99 (plus P&P) available from the mail order company Postscript Books

(Just to be on the safe side, my copy has the ISBN 9781859838174. It’s possible there could be a revised edition of which I am not aware)

Posted by: billpurdue | October 3, 2014

Crime in the far north

A few weeks ago I wrote about my holiday in the Outer Hebrides and how it was possible to find books for sale even in the humble post office. Well, in almost all these shops it was possible to find on sale copies of the Peter May crime trilogy, “The Lewis Trilogy”. I’ve just read “The Black House”, the first book in the series, and I can thoroughly recommend it.

 BlackHouse

The main subject of the book is the journey of an Edinburgh based detective Fin McCleod back to the countryside of his childhood on the Isle of Lewis and his meetings with people who many years ago had been major players in his circle of friends. There has been a murder in Edinburgh and shortly afterwards another murder on the Isle of Lewis. There are significant similarities between the two crimes and so Fin is asked to help the police on Lewis. For Fin it is a rediscovery of his childhood, the reopening of some old wounds as well as a murder investigation. His childhood sweetheart is now married to his best friend at school, but all is not well between husband and wife and their son, Fionnlagh. Then there was the time when Fin, as a teenager, took part in the annual ‘harvest’ of seabirds (‘gugas’) on a lonely rock about 50 miles out at sea and the tragedy that occurred there. A large part of the book is taken up with the story of Fin’s childhood and schooldays, so at first the reader might wonder what relevance this has to the crime being investigated, but gradually all becomes clear. Near the end, when revelations come thick and fast , it becomes a real edge-of-the-seat thriller.

The names of many places in the book were familiar to me, having passed through or perhaps visited them, but the main focus of the story is the village of Crobost, a fictitious place comprising the real hamlets of Adabroc and Skigersta. For those unfamiliar with Gaelic pronunciation, there’s a handy list at the beginning of Gaelic words and proper names to be found in the story and how they are pronounced. There is some gritty detail in the descriptions – if you’re squeamish, then beware the lengthy description of the post mortem near the start of the book.

It’s not all “Scandi-noir”

Promotional poster

Promotional poster

Still on the subject of crime, I’m enjoying the Swedish crime series nearing the end of its run on BBC Four, called “Crimes of Passion” (“Mördaren ljuger inte ensam” in Swedish). These are quite different whodunnits, more in the tradition or style of Dorothy L Sayers or Agatha Christie, but set some time later than those novels, in the early 1960s. The episodes are all based on six of the early novels by the prolific Swedish crime novelist Maria Lang (real name Dagmar Lange, 1914-1991), written in the late 1940s and early 1950s, according to Wikipedia. They are certainly a pleasant change from the gory stuff we’ve been used to calling “Scandi-noir”. Unfortunately I’ve found it difficult to discover any copies of the Lang novels in English, but maybe you can.

Posted by: billpurdue | September 14, 2014

Learning how to be Victorian

Ruth Goodman is a name familiar to fans of history documentaries on BBC TV. She has been a prominent figure in several documentary series about life during various periods in British history, particularly “Victorian Farm”, “Edwardian Farm” and “Wartime Farm”. Her knowledge of the social history of the periods of British history must be encyclopedic if her book “How to be a Victorian” is anything to go by. In the book she describes in detail about what the daily routine was like for Victorians rich and poor by describing their day from getting up to bedtime . For every Victorian, she writes that the day “began with a shiver”, because even in the wealthiest of households, fires in bedrooms were rarely lit.

 How to be Victorian

Ruth Goodman really knows what she is talking about, because in many cases, she has not only researched the subject thoroughly, she’s actually tried it herself. Take brushing your teeth for example. For toothpaste (or dentrifice as it was called) the Victorians used concoctions made up from substances you could buy at the chemist. They included powdered chalk, powdered cuttlefish bone, powdered charcoal and soot. Ruth Goodman recommends soot (it’s her personal favourite) since despite its colour, “it’s the softest of all abrasives, helping to shift plaque and tartar without irritating or damaging either teeth or gums”. (She does point out that she is wary of trying Victorian medical recipes unless she knows what all the ingredients are.) She has even tried squeezing herself into the extremely tight corsets that were fashionable amongst Victorian women in the mid 1800s.

“How to be a Victorian” is a very detailed account of the typical Victorian day, though if you’re looking for recipes, try Mrs Beeton. It’s not an especially well illustrated book, but there is a section of colour plates and line drawings in the centre and there are other small illustrations. It is however a fascinating read which I can thoroughly recommend.

Now, quite a while ago I was complaining about the introduction of self service machines in public libraries. These enable to public to return their books and take them out without actually speaking to or looking at a member of the library staff and of course they save the county councils money by doing away with some staff. At the time I remember that I was castigated for complaining about this, but I was pleased to see an article in the i paper (which calls itself “Britain’s first and only concise quality newspaper”) which is entitled “If we’re customers, why are we doing all the work”. The article is by Jane Merrick, who writes “the service industry…. Is turning itself into a non-service industry and I don’t like it”, referring to self service checkouts in supermarkets and even a London restaurant where you actually cook your own meal. She points out that her local library has turned itself into a self service branch. She says that if cutting staff costs means that the library will remain open when it otherwise would have closed, then that’s OK, but staff have still lost their jobs. She ends the article by saying “When so much of our lives is conducted in the digital world, face-to-face interaction with another human being is precious – and increasingly rare”

Well, I thoroughly agree with Ms Merrick and if anyone says that self service is progress, I will point out that ‘progress’ does not necessarily mean improvement.

Posted by: billpurdue | August 25, 2014

Books in the far north west of Scotland

It’s been summer holiday time and that’s why I’ve made no postings recently. Like many people I’ve been away and my destination this year was the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, a truly magical place and one I would definitely recommend people to visit. As it’s a mainly sparsely populated area, you wouldn’t expect to find a bookshop or indeed many places that actually sell books. Well that’s mainly true, but if it’s local books you’re after, then you’ll find a selection at a tourist information centre, gift shop or even a humble post office. In Stornoway, the medium sized town and sea port there is a good bookshop: Baltic Books in the centre of town, right opposite the well stocked public library, which happens to have a very nice café.

 

Lewis and HarrisThere’s no shortage of books about the local area as well as local history publications. I came back with three books, the first one being “Lewis and Harris” by Francis Thompson, one of a series of David and Charles colourful guide books (they used to be called Pevensey Guides). It’s full of colour photos and plenty of accompanying text about the history and geography of the islands. I bought this title as a souvenir rather than a guide to what to see since it was first published back in 1999, and reprinted, but not revised, several times. There are several other titles in the series on different areas of Scotland, all using the same format.

 

 

cm cover duncansby.qxdPossibly one of the best guide books with reasonably up to date information is “The Outer Hebrides Guide Book” by Charles Tait. Again this is one of a series, which are all, according to the blurb on the back cover, “photographed, designed and written by the author”. This is a mine of information about the islands. In its pages are numerous maps, short chapters about the geology, culture, history and natural history of the Outer Hebrides, plus other chapters on each of the islands and the outlying islands including St. Kilda and the Flannan Isles. There are also sections on shopping and eating out, accommodation, walks and several itineraries

 

Charles Tait has also produced guide books for Shetland, Orkney, Skye, the North Highlands and Dorset (!!). I can thoroughly recommend the Outer Hebrides Guide Book- very good value at £12.99.

 

VatersayThe third book I bought is “The Vatersay Raiders”by Ben Buxton. Vatersay (Bhatarsaigh in Gaelic) is the southernmost inhabited island of the Hebrides. At the beginning of the 20th century the island was owned by Lady Cathcart, who lived in Aberdeenshire and employed a farmer and his workers to manage the island. The ‘raiders’ (or invaders) were desperate for some land on which to grow crops and had built huts and planted potatoes on Vatersay without permission. Ten of them were hauled before the court in Edinburgh to face charges. These events had enormous significance in the history of crofting and this book tells the story of these men and explains the background and the earlier history of the island.

 

image.phpI did consider a fourth book: “The Soap Man: Lewis, Harris and Lord Leverhulme” by Roger Hutchinson. In 1918, Lord Leverhulme decided to purchase the whole of the Isle of Lewis and shortly after the Isle of Harris. His intention was to revolutionise the lives of the islands’ 30,000 inhabitants, but he didn’t reckon on the opposition of the islanders. I’ll see if my local library can get that one for me.

 

Posted by: billpurdue | July 19, 2014

Looking back on a lifetime of railway writing

David St. John Thomas is well known amongst buyers of railway books: he’s written quite a lot: amongst those best known are “The Country Railway”, “The Great Days of the Express Trains” and “The Trains We Loved”. He’s also well known for his publishing company David and Charles, which he founded along with his friend Charles Hadfield, author of “Hadfield’s British Canals”. Thomas’ latest book is “Farewell to Trains” (published by Frances Lincoln – he sold ‘David and Charles’ to Reader’s Digest in 2000).

 Farewelltotrains

The subtitle of this book is “A lifetime’s journey along Britain’s changing railways”. It’s brimming with railway nostalgia as the author looks back over a very long career of journalism and railway writing and then publishing. There are three chapters entitled ’65 Years of Railway Writing’ – 1:1946-63 , 2: 1963-84 and 3: 1984-2011, in which are reproduced extracts from some of his books as well as articles for newspapers and even a radio script. In another chapter he imagines railway scenes from different locations from various railway eras. He devotes another chapter to the railway related paintings and other pictures and photos which adorn the walls of his house in Scotland.

 

Short sections are devoted to a selection of photographs by Peter W Gray, H C Casserley, John Edington and Bernard Mills. There are also photographs scattered throughout the book, but most of the time these photos are not connected with the text. In the ‘Author’s note’ it states that the text and photos run parallel with each other rather than being connected. There seems to be much more about the Great Western and West Country railways in general than about other areas of the country, although this is possibly to be expected as Thomas grew up in the area and his publishing company was based at Newton Abbot in Devon. He also mentions Irish railways, a topic I also find fascinating because of their quirky nature.

 

All in all, this book is a bit of a mixture, but anyone wanting a wallow in railway nostalgia will love it. I wonder if Thomas really has given his final word on railways or will he write more? Time will tell.

 

The wonder of dogs

 JohnandGeorge

Being a lifelong dog lover, I was drawn to a book I saw on the shelves at W H Smith this week. It was amongst their best selling non-fiction titles and is called “John and George, the dog who changed my life”. It’s by John Dolan, someone who only a short time ago was in and out of prison and a heroin addict, but he says he owes his transformation to George. George is a lovely Staffordshire Bull Terrier, now 7 years old. John is now a street artist and currently has an exhibition at the Howard Griffin Gallery, London E1, until 17th August. There’s a full length article in the Guardian family supplement for 19th July 2014.  John’s (and George’s) story is definitely one I want to read.

 

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