I'm really pleased that people seem to like the new collection of seasonal stories 'A Christmas Cracker ' . This latest 5 sta...
Saturday, 25 October 2014
I don't know if it is an outcome of being retired (see Shy of Retiring but I seem to have developed some rather unusual reading habits. My normal practice is to find an author I like and then read everything they have ever produced (or will produce), which is why I have bookshelves groaning with Wodehouse, Pratchett, Bryson and McCall-Smith, interspersed with little clutches of slightly less prolific authors such as Eric Malpass and Garrison Keillor. Lately however I have been branching out somewhat, and I'm not sure if its a good thing, or not?
It all started with a visit to a charity book store. They had an offer of any three books on the table for 50p. There was one book that I really wanted and I should really just have bought that, but being parsimonious in the extreme, I was determined to get my money's worth and picked up two more, one of which was Clive Ponting's '1940: Myth and Reality'. I'm not normally one for revisiting the last unpleasantness, I had more than enough of that as a child when every Sunday afternoon had a film in which John Mills, Noel Coward or Jack Hawkins stoically endured appalling hardships whilst saving the Free World. However, I gave it a try and was surprised to find out how much I didn't know about the origins of the war and how close we came to losing it. Actually 'we' is a bit of a stretch as I wasn't even born then, so I can neither take credit nor criticism. This is a well researched book which gives some real insights into the reality of the UK position - which was basically that we were broke and could only hope to hang on grimly and wait for the U.S. to join in the fun. Obviously it is necessary to be aware of the particular political slant that all historians apply to their research but this is an interesting, if not exactly uplifting, book.
Somewhat depressed, courtesy of Mr. Ponting, I decided that I needed something a little more light-hearted, and I found it in Sue Welfare's 'Just Desserts'. I'm not sure how I came across this but I think it was on offer. I read the blurb and the reviews and then read a sample, and was hooked. In fact, this is the first book in a very long time that I have read twice, back to back, because I enjoyed it so much and didn't want it to end. The disturbing part is that this is definitely 'chick-lit' writ large. Men are either handsome and humorous (in a self-deprecating fashion) or child-like adulterers who deserve all they get. Women are resourceful, hard working and yet to realise their full potential or scheming gold-diggers. Nevertheless, this was great fun and certainly dispelled the gathering gloom from Mr. Ponting's effort.
The problem is that this has now established a bit of a reading pattern with me. I find myself (which can be disconcerting if you weren't looking for yourself at the time) alternating between horrors of WWII and 'chick-lit', which can't really be healthy.
Having finished Ms. Welfare's tome for the second time, I decided that it might be useful to take a look at the other end of WWII, the bit where we won it! Accordingly, as it was on offer, I downloaded Max Hasting's 'Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945'. Now I know, from the title, that I shouldn't have expected this to be particularly cheery reading, but it plunged new depths for me. The story is cleverly told from the perspectives of each of the warring nations but the lurch from one atrocity to another is quite demoralising. The Russian advance was particularly grim - I never thought I would find myself feeling sympathetic toward the Nazi defenders, but I did in these chapters.
Thoroughly depressed, I turned to Ms. Welfare for comfort and found it in 'Cooking Up a Storm', another improbable but hugely enjoyable tale of a wronged wife who finds a new life for her and her children in a cottage on an estate run by the handsome but feckless Lord of the Manor. Great fun and a huge relief after the fall of Berlin.
Unable to resist the siren call of further atrocities, and eager to know the background to the Soviet psyche with regard to WWII, I downloaded (in my defence, it was on offer again) 'Leningrad: Tragedy of a City under Siege, 1941-1944'. If you're ever in need of feeling totally depressed and hopeless, this is the book for you. Caught between the incompetence, brutality and corruption of Soviet-era Communism and the sadistic desire of the Nazis to see what would happen if you starved x million people to death, the people of Leningrad endured unimaginable horrors in order to survive. This is a story cleverly told from the perspectives and first-hand accounts of the participants, and is clearly very well researched. It certainly helped me to understand the Russian determination to spare no-one in their fight back. I particularly liked the way in which officialdom coined a quasi-medical term for 'dying of hunger' without actually saying it - 'dystrophic'.
Inevitably, I ran from these horrors back into the welcoming arms of Ms. Welfare again. In this case, 'Off the Record' was my book of choice. This is a cleverly done but frustrating tale in which the two main protagonists are kept apart by a stupid misunderstanding early in the book and their twin stories are cunningly interwoven until fate takes a hand and all is made right. Another tale of adulterous husbands, handsome would-be heroes and women finally reaching their potential in their careers and life-choices. Well written as always and deeply satisfying (everything turns out right in the end).
So you can see my dilemma. I'm stuck in a pattern of reading that can't be healthy for me. There's much more in this vein, which I'll tell you about next time. I wonder if there's a helpline I could call?
Despite Philip's rather odd reading tastes, you may well find his writing just what you're looking for. Take a look at his Amazon Author Page.
In Part 1 of this post, you left me somewhat inebriated (me, not you dear reader) on a beach in Ryde, Isle of Wight, in the summer of 1973. Those with a good memory may well recall that I was on a pub outing train trip with the Cooper’s Arms in Anglesey Road, Burton.
After a sunny Sunday afternoon sleeping off the excesses consumed during the train trip to Portsmouth, Kev and I made our way back to the ferry and rejoined the rest of our party heading back to the railway station. I must admit to having only hazy memories of this bit of the day, but that’s hardly surprising given our previous consumption and that generally foggy feeling that persists when you have been ‘sleeping it off’ in the afternoon. Anyway, we must have found our way back to the station somehow and settled back in our seats for the long journey home. Naturally, the beer started flowing as soon as the train set off again.
We can’t have been very far out of Portsmouth when someone noticed that the toilet nearest to our carriage wasn’t flushing any more. This was a bit of a bind, as frequent trips to the toilet were about the only exercise that any of us were getting on this trip, but it wasn’t the end of the world as it was a very long train with many carriages and, therefore, many toilets. So we transferred our allegiance to a convenience a few carriages along, until that too ceased functioning. Slowly, one by one, all of the toilets on the train stopped flushing. The rumour went about, and I don’t know how true it was, that some fool had failed to replenish the water supply on the train whilst it was in Portsmouth and we were now seeing the result. Whatever the cause, it was clear that the problem was going to be acute before very long, and we still had quite a way to travel.
Logic would dictate that, when travelling on a train without any toilet arrangements, the sensible thing to do would be to stop drinking alcohol. However, since when did logic play any part in pub outings? Things carried on just as before, the only difference was the increasingly unpleasant state of the toilets as the input increased exponentially and the output ceased altogether. After a while, you had to be either very brave or extremely desperate to go anywhere near any of them. The train had essentially become a very long, mobile cess pit. As time went by, people seemed to be adopting a tense, determined posture as they willed away the miles and pinned their hopes on Burton station.
We arrived at Burton station in the early hours of the morning. It was pretty well deserted, but that situation didn’t last for long. The stampede from the train was something to be seen as everyone sought refuge from the appalling smell which pervaded every carriage and homed in on the nearest functioning toilets. I must admit that I have never seen such a long queue for the Gents before or since. I suppose it was a mark of our British reserve that there wasn’t a mad scramble, just an orderly queue that stretched the length of the platform, composed of many people in varying degrees of discomfort and desperation. Thus ended my last pub outing train trip, not with a bang but with the whimpers of a queue of hunched and very introspective blokes.
I don’t know if these train trips still happen, although I would very much doubt it. I think this type of mammoth outing, partaken by most of the pubs in the town, was a bit of a throwback to the great railway excursions of the previous century, when a day out like this was probably the only holiday many people ever had or could hope to have. However, pub outings didn’t come to an end with that queue on Burton station for me – oh no, I took to the buses, as I’ll tell you in the next exciting episode.
You can find a lot more of this sort of nonsense in the latest compilation of 'nostalgedy' stories 'A Kick at the Pantry Door'
Saturday, 18 October 2014
In 'A Grand Day Out', I was talking about pub outings, particularly train outings, which were such a feature of pub life in the 1950s and 1960s. Most of my experience of these came about through my parents' tenancy of The New Talbot Hotel in Anglesey Road, Burton in the 1960s. However, there's one pub outing which happened a little later than that, in 1973 to be precise, which lives in my memory.
At the time, Kev (my mate from the Majorcan holiday, if you recall) and I were regulars at the Coopers Arms, also in Anglesey Road. In fact we were pretty much part of the fixtures and fittings. I can only imagine those in authority at the pub decided that they needed some 'young blood' on the Outing Society Committee as they co-opted us, although I can't remember contributing anything meaningful to the meetings, which seemed to go on for ages.
The outing which we were supposedly 'organising' was an ambitious day out to Portsmouth and Southsea by train. Ambitious because most of these outings were usually to the usual suspects, Rhyl, Blackpool or Skegness; places which were relatively close and therefore reduced the amount of time spent travelling. In comparison, Portsmouth was almost like going abroad.
When the appointed Sunday finally arrived, it was a beautiful summer's day, hot and sunny. The train was the longest I've ever seen, with a line of carriages that seemed to stretch forever, and certainly the length of Burton station platform. There were clutches of customers of pubs and clubs from all over Burton , lined up and ready for their grand day out. Kev and I were not sufficiently high in the committee ranking to be assigned to drink dispensing, or anything important. I think we probably helped to load the beer, pop and food onto the train, but that was all. Other than that, we were just another couple of customers, imbibing the beer and enjoying the food.
The beer imbibing bit was particularly successful, as I recall ‘not feeling a lot of pain’ on our arrival at Portsmouth station. At this point, our party split, with some heading for the high spots of Portsmouth, others for the beaches of Southsea. For reasons that I cannot remember, Kev, me and a few others decided to catch the ferry to the Isle of Wight. I do recall travelling on the train from Ryde Pier Head to Ryde Esplanade. The carriage was full of day-trippers and there was standing room only. Unfortunately, the lurching of the train, and unsteadiness on my part brought on by a morning's concentrated boozing, led to me taking a step back and stomping heavily onto the foot of a very large and angry man standing behind me. A good deal of apologising, and our arrival at our station, probably saved me from a degree of, entirely justified, physical retribution.
After that excitement, and given our obvious inebriation, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and headed to the beach. Kev was a keen sunbather, despite this being an exercise in futility. Kev was very fair-haired and pale-skinned, and had no chance of ever going anything other than bright red, but he lived in the hope that this absolute truth might one day be miraculously overturned.
|Kevin (nearest to camera) failing to tan!|
Ryde beach, at that time, left a great deal to be desired as a holiday venue. It was mostly covered in evil-smelling seaweed, interspersed with deposits of oil, tar and other detritus. To sun-bathe, you had to find a rare patch of clean sand and lay claim to this. We managed to do so and soon found ourselves slumbering under a hot sun, with my radio belting out the Top 40. In fact it was the memory of the Linda Lewis hit, 'Rock-a-Doodle-Doo', echoing around the beach which meant that I could pinpoint the year as 1973. They don't write songs like that anymore, do they?
Next time, I'll tell you about the less than successful journey home.
You can find more from me at My Amazon Author Page