Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018

Sue and Martin above Zermatt - 2018
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books. Show all posts

Friday, 21 February 2020

Two Books to Consider Reading

It's raining outside in Timperley. It may be raining where you are, dear reader. Relief is at hand by way of a couple of books that I've recently enjoyed reading.

'Northbridge Rectory' wasn't a page turner, but I found the writing sublime. I kept wanting to highlight some of the descriptive passages. Nothing much happens in this book, but it held my attention as it tried to portray some of the characters (and their interactions) to be found in an English village during the Second World War.

'Where the Crawdads Sing' is not up to the same literary standard, but I found it to be more of a page turner. However, some readers may be put off by the unlikely sounding plot. It begins with a death. Is it a murder? Keep turning the pages!

Proper reviews of these books are available on-line, if you aren't sure whether to try them. Sue's book club members mostly enjoyed both books.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

East of West, West of East - by Hamish Brown

Hamish Brown is well known as a Scottish hillwalker and backpacker, and inspirer of the TGO Challenge. He still turns up, at the age of 85, at the signing in desk in the Park Hotel, welcoming each year's batch of Challengers as they finish their adventure.
Last year I managed to get the last (display) copy of a book that he brought along that was published in 2018. I've finally got round to reading it, and very enjoyable it is too. It intersperses Hamish's ('Ham's') own recollections as a seven year old, and his notes about historical detail, with letters flowing east (his gran and elder brother writing from Scotland) and those flowing west from Japan and Malaya written mainly by his mother, but also by his father and himself.
The final chapters, which I am looking forward to reading, tell of his father's escape from Malaya, after Ham and his mother and young brother manage to reach the safety of a family reunion in South Africa.
Thanks, Hamish, for bringing these books along last May and providing such an interesting read.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

The Salt Path - Raynor Winn

Sue and I have both enjoyed reading about a homeless couple, one of whom is terminally ill, walking the South West Coast Path with inferior equipment and a budget of about £30 a week.

It's rather a contrast to Simon Armitage's  (also an entertaining read - I wrote about it ), if rather amusing when Mole, Raynor's husband, is mistaken for Mr Armitage.

When homelessness is forced upon this hapless couple, they embark on a long walk. Raynor must have kept some sort of diary, or how else could she have written so vividly about her experiences on the coast path? In authoring this book it must soon have become apparent that she's a talented writer, and no doubt she is now making some sort of living by employing that new found talent.

Raynor and Mole certainly have my admiration.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Two Bits of Jazz, some National Trust, and a Book


Busy busy. We enjoyed The Harlem Hot Stompers at Eagley Jazz Club on Monday evening, and even managed to get home before they closed the M60 motorway!

On Tuesday Sue demanded a shopping trip for some boots that she apparently needs for work. Can you identify the venue?


Later, we attended a family gathering that took a stroll from a National Trust property, Packwood House. The pace was brisk, albeit Sue’s mum turned up in what we thought were her pyjamas. “No”, she explained, “they were curtains!”


The family (some of them, anyway) are religious, so I took them through a pleasant churchyard. Nice stained glass windows. Apparently 800 years old.


Here’s the 5 km route, easily extended to the east to the towpath of the Grand Union Canal.


I noticed a copy of a book lying around – self published by one of Sue’s cousins. A tricky subject on which Jonathan is passionate. Well done to him for putting this together and self-publishing. It’s a huge task. We will get a copy (from here).


Sadly our motorway luck ran out on the way home, the M6 being closed at junction 18, which made us a bit late (and extremely cross with a juggernaut that was tailgating us as we proceeded through country lanes in a long line of traffic).

On Wednesday the short motorway journey to and from Hazel Grove Civic Centre was thankfully free from the road closures which appear to have become the norm for late evening travellers around Manchester. That journey to the weekly SWOG presentation was most worthwhile. The speaker, a 78 year old musician who plays in numerous jazz bands and also on his own as a busker, was Eric Newton from Stoke-on-Trent. He spliced his life story with a few familiar tunes on his clarinet. It was a wonderful tale. We came away with a CD, and we will keep an eye out for him as he busks in places like Stone and Nantwich as well as other parts of the Potteries. Dot may have encountered him, or have heard of him. He has run 38 marathons, all whilst playing his clarinet, raising over £60,000 for charity and setting a record of 648 plays of ‘When the Saints Come Marching In’ during the course of one marathon run.


Friday, 5 October 2018

Henry Blofeld – Over and Out


We recently strolled down to Waterside Arts Centre in Sale to spend an evening, together with a packed audience of at least 400, with Henry Blofeld, a Test Match Special commentator from 1972 until his retirement at the age of 77.

He was very engaging, with lots of anecdotes, as one would expect, and even those (like Sue) with no particular interest in cricket came away feeling thoroughly entertained, even doubling the cost of their evening by spending £20 on a copy of Henry’s latest book. I noticed at half time that his wife was hiding behind a huge pile of books in the foyer and I wondered why they had brought so many, but by the end of the night the people who had queued for the longest time had to make do with a handshake with Henry across a bare table.

I’ve not yet read the book, but I’m sure it’ll provide good entertainment for a few hours.

Henry’s ‘78 Retired’ tour continues at various venues until mid November.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Walking Away, by Simon Armitage (Further Travels with a Troubadour on the South West Coast Path)


I don’t often read ‘proper’ books these days, thanks to a lack of shelf space and a very convenient electronic gadget, but Nell lent me this book before we went to Canada, and I’ve very much enjoyed reading it.

I still have to produce a compendium of our own visits to the South West Coast Path, which finished back in 2012, and that will have minimal literary stature compared with Simon’s offering. The Troubadour is Professor of Poetry at the University of Sheffield, and not somebody who regularly undertakes long walks. His walk is fully ‘orchestrated’ with his ‘Galapagos Tortoise’ (a giant case full of poetry books) necessarily being transported from B&B to B&B whilst Simon trots along the route with a variety of companions in a disintegrating pair of boots. The plan is to pay his way by giving poetry readings every night, after each of which a sock is passed around for donations.

His starting points each day are advertised so that he gains the company of random people from the previous night’s readings, plus a few longer term hangers on such as his wife, who appears from time to time, and a chap called ‘Slug’.

I don’t know the time frame for writing the book. Perhaps Simon had a notebook or a dictating machine with him, or a fantastic memory, as he captures every nuance of the walk. As a poet, he is entitled to ‘poetic licence’, and he demonstrates that on a few occasions, for example when he describes a blackbird singing at the end of September. No matter, his descriptive prose is consistently wonderful…

“The spilt mercury of the moon’s reflection extends from the head of the lake right to our feet.”

It’s absolutely crammed full of such prose, even when relating anecdotes about any number of situations and characters.

An excellent read, as was the other book Nell lent to me – ‘Dad You Suck’ by Tim Dowling. (Yes, I already got that message!)

Friday, 11 March 2016

The Paxford Priors Murder Mysteries


A series of three written in the British Cosy genre.

If you enjoy reading about Agatha Raisin and Mama Ramotswe or watching Rosemary and Thyme you will love the adventures of the villagers of Paxford Priors. No clever detectives at work here, just unwitting friends whose lives are thrown into turmoil by dastardly deeds.

That’s what Pat Oliver says about her Paxford Priors books. I’ve just enjoyed reading the second in the series, having very much enjoyed Pat’s first and shorter (104 page) offering ‘The Mad Hatter Murder’. It’s best to read that first as many of the characters also appear in the second (261 page) book.

It’s easy reading and Pat should be very proud of the results of her labour. The characters develop nicely and I can picture her with her husband Dave, observing the goings on from their site in the Paxford Priors caravan park. I’m slightly surprised that a mountain biking tourist hasn’t yet featured in the narrative!

Pat and Dave have for many years supported a little known charity, FOMO (Friends Of Mulanje Orphans) a UK Charity that supports thousands of Aids orphans in the Mulanje District of Malawi.

All the proceeds from the distribution and sale of anything on the Paxford Priors website go to this charity, Pat’s writing being a hobby in which she indulges for the benefit of the charity.

To purchase a book and support FOMO please email [email protected] (you’ll need to pay P&P and make a donation).

If you enjoy a little light reading I can recommend these books. I couldn’t put them down once I’d started reading.


Wednesday, 4 November 2015

A Weekend in Leyburn – 30 October to 1 November 2015


This was a weekend for my ‘Pyrenean Friends’ and a few others deserving a treat, based at Collett’s lovely B&B in Leyburn in the Yorkshire Dales.

Some of us are pictured above outside the lodge on Saturday morning, but fifteen of us had arrived in time for some stew on Friday night, followed by the launch of my book, which is a companion volume to my offering in 2013. The following two images should be self explanatory.


Copies are available for £10 including UK P&P, but I won’t be able to despatch them until after 17 December. (The next post will explain why.)

Let me know if you’d like a copy.

Time is tight, so this posting is basically a pictorial summary of the weekend.

Autumn colours were vibrant despite the overcast day.


It was warm though – shorts and t-shirt weather. Sheila had recently acquired a ‘very good value’ ‘Selfie Stick’. It worked whilst we enjoyed elevenses with cake.


Bolton Castle hove into view, warranting a close inspection from all but Alan S, who headed straight for the Bolton Arms in the hope that JJ would be in wait, propping up the bar.


A dog walker on the lane leading to the castle pointed out this dragon, which believe it or not we may otherwise have walked past!


By now, Conrad and Graham had slipped away muttering something like – “I think we’ll follow the scent of that Black Sheep”.

The rest of us admired the ancient (14th century) ramparts of Bolton Castle, in the delightful hamlet of Castle Bolton.


Lunch was taken on a stone bench, then we headed off to a suitable rendezvous point. Richard discovered he’d over-indulged, and we wondered how Conrad’s wonky knees had managed to negotiate this narrow squeeze…


There were lots of mushrooms and fungi in evidence this weekend, including those shown below.


(There were plentiful field mushrooms should anyone have been collecting.)

Autumn colours were many and varied.


The stroll to Redmire soon saw us re-united with our walking eleven, and Ali and Sue B who had come by train, outside the Bolton Arms, where Black Sheep bitter was flowing in a flavoursome sort of way.


Soon, even JJ strode into view. No pub gathering is complete without JJ. We stayed a while longer.


Eventually we managed to extricate ourselves from Redmire’s fleshpots, leaving the village past this magnificent tree.


Beyond Preston-under-Scar, the superb path along beautifully named Leyburn Shawl afforded fine views up Wensleydale into the glare of the setting sun.


Back at base at 4.30pm, we had plenty of time for tea and the excellent cakes provided by Henry, Graham and Kirstie at Eastfield Lodge, before another sociable evening.

Here’s our route for the day - 21 km with 300+ metres ascent, taking 6.5 hours.


Dinner was provided, on Henry’s recommendation, by ‘Thirteen’, where Michael’s food was great and Sarah’s front of house skills were immaculate.


Mick and Gayle had been absent for the walk due to their need to make a hospital visit. We were pleased to see them return with smiles on their faces.

Sunday morning saw most folk head off in various directions, leaving just six of us to enjoy a November walk in what seemed like baking heat.

As yesterday, we set off from the Lodge.


This time we headed towards the racehorse village of Middleham.


The River Ure was crossed via castellated Middleham Bridge, seen here in the distance.


Grassy slopes with a carpet of closely knit cobwebs led up to the village.


Elevenses, and a pause to reflect. Just four of us now, as JJ and German Martin had sped off to Manchester.


The carpet of cobwebs isn’t visible from this angle.


Trees laden with berries feature strongly at this time of year.


Middleham, with brightly coloured houses and a 12th Century castle.


Then it was a long uphill stroll beside the gallops of Middleham Low Moor, where we noticed a two legged ‘horse’ trying in vain to ‘gallop’.


Then a descent down Naylor’s Hill led to a perfect lunch spot with fine views across the valley.


The Ure was re-crossed at Wensley Bridge, for an easy walk through Wensley and back up to Leyburn past trees in fine autumn fettle.


The church at Leyburn is virtually next to Eastfield Lodge. The conclusion of a lovely stroll in the best of company.


Here’s our route - 16 km, with 300 metres ascent, taking 5 hours.


I’m afraid time has deprived you, dear reader, of a slideshow to accompany this rather prosaic and hastily compiled record of what was a really delightful weekend.

Thanks go to everyone who came, and to the providers of various items – gin, beer, wine, etc when what we brought ran out, and special thanks to Graham B for his liberal donations of apples, jams and chutneys.

Shall I go ahead and book it for next year?

Friday, 7 August 2015

Another Pyrenean Adventure – Coast to coast along the GR11 - The Book


I said somewhere that there wouldn’t be a book of this trip.

I was wrong.

I was due to travel home from this walk today, but I finished a few days early and came back last Saturday.

When GR10 was completed in 2013, Humphrey kindly converted my blog postings into an 80 page book. Very good it was too. I wrote all about it .

This time Humphrey has again excelled himself, with another 80+ page offering in the same format of which there are currently just a couple of copies. He has also produced some very useful maps.

I now have several options:

1. Distribute by way of a PDF file. I’m not sure about this as I’ve now compiled an to the postings and have inserted links for easy navigation from page to page – all that’s missing are the maps.
2. Print small batches ‘On Demand’.
3. Print by conventional litho, as with the previous book – by far the cheapest option but requiring a minimum print run of 100 copies.

I could also combine the two books into a single offering.

Since I was only supposed to be arriving home at about the time I’m writing this, it has come as a bit of a shock to receive the book. There again, yesterday (when it arrived) was one of my ‘official birthdays’ and I know Humphrey wanted to thank me for offering him a few minutes reminiscence over his morning porridge during the past few weeks!

I have to say I was more than gobsmacked by his generosity.

Thank you Humphrey.

Anyway, to help me decide on how many (if any) more copies of the book should be printed, I’d be grateful if those of you who would like a copy would let me know by email to [email protected] so that by the end of September I can make a decision on what to do.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Cycling Around the World – Moods of Future Joys and Thunder & Sunshine, by Alastair Humphreys


I came across Alastair Humphreys during the TGO Awards Outdoor Blogger of the Year debacle. I was impressed to discover that he seems to be making a career out of being an adventurer, motivational speaker and author. I decided to buy his children’s books, about , as a Christmas present for Sue’s nephew, Alexander. It was a good choice, and Sue and I enjoyed a cheeky read of these books before wrapping them.

That led me to buy the Kindle versions of Alastair’s ‘adult’ narratives that he wrote after his 46,000 mile, four year journey around the world. They were his first books and I wasn’t expecting anything exceptional; I just wanted to show respect and support for his choice of career in a very small way.

Both Sue and I have now read Moods of Future Joys and Thunder & Sunshine. They are excellent, arguably ‘exceptional’, books, taking the reader around the world with Alastair, experiencing his ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ both in moods and metres.

I commented on the books here, so I’m not going to try to write my own detailed review, especially as I basically agree with Guardian reviewer, Susan Greenwood. Alastair’s pages provide links to her review of his first book, which review is unfortunately blighted by adverts, so I’m reproducing it below.

That’s all really, though some readers may be interested in following Alastair’s blog, or investigating his forays into ‘Microadventuring’.

Here is Susan’s review:

Reading about someone else's remarkable achievements tends to make you do one of two things. You either (a) reach for another bar of Dairy Milk/ can of Stella/ packet of Doritos in a depressed funk of self-pity, or (b) leap off the sofa, thump your chest and scream "carpe diem" until your lungs burst.

With cycling experiencing something of a renaissance at the moment, Alastair Humphreys' book Moods of Future Joys could be just the ticket to inspire a mass expelling of air.

You have to hand it to him. Whereas most people subtly back out of those classic Friday-night pub boasts ("I'm totally going climb Everest using just my teeth") as soon as the hangover kicks in, Humphreys stayed true to his words - and 46,000 miles later he'd cycled around the world. Which puts us all in a terrible situation because if a lad from Yorkshire can overcome international terrorism, dysentery, a crushing Siberian winter and a month without showering to achieve what Sir Ranulph Fiennes calls "the first great adventure of the new millennium" then there's not really any reason why we all can't.

He may not have meant it but Humphreys' engaging, sometimes brutal, sometimes comic style is above all a call to arms. Or rather wheels. His book deals with the first leg of his four-year odyssey which started rather unceremoniously with a wrong turn out of his road in Airton, Yorkshire, in 2001 and ended on the glorious coast of South Africa more than a year later.

The intervening miles, which could probably be described as one of the longest detours in history after September 11 made central Asia a no-go, are documented with unflinching honesty. Cycling across Africa on a route passing through Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya is apparently a brutal experience but one, it would seem, that is worth the effort. Humphreys conveys his loneliness, wanderlust, grit and despair in a manner reminiscent of the great tradition of British explorers. He may have spent many hours asking why the hell he was doing this; anyone reading his book may, in the great tradition of watching British explorers, be more curious as to whether this man was insane or not.

But anyone who has ever got on a bike when they'd really rather not will find a kindred spirit within these pages. It is a common misconception that cycle touring is "fun". It is not. [I don’t agree – Ed] Fun refers to bonfire night, sitting in the pub with mates or bunking off work to go to Brighton for the day. Being woken in the dead of night by solvent abusers demanding money, cycling for three days into an unrelenting headwind or pedalling along the floor of the Blue Nile canyon with the weight of a looming excruciating climb out playing on your mind is not fun. Euphoric, boring, unrelenting, unique, exhausting, liberating, lonely. These are words that describe a long journey by bike and Humphreys weaves them into his chapters in such a way that you can't say you weren't warned but perhaps you're a little intrigued to try them out for yourself anyway.

If you did decide to, you should hope for some friends like Humphreys', who litter his tale with some superb comedy moments. How worldly wise he must have felt on receiving an email from Simon, who joined him briefly in Amman, crying out for help after ill-advisedly shaving his buttocks to make cycling less painful. And only an Englishman and a Frenchman could pass the miles in Mozambique with a competition to see who could cycle the furthest with their eyes closed. Cyclists are a strange lot.

But the great running theme throughout the book is solitude and the effect of transient friendships on one's soul - in Humphreys' case, this manifests itself in raging tears and tactically used swear words. Occasionally this gets monotonous but then it was probably monotonous for him too. In fact the entire book has been an exercise in self-determination after it was rejected resoundingly by every publisher and agent he approached, leaving Humphreys to publish it himself through website Print and Be Damned. For a man who claims in conversation not to be a solitary person, he has consistently chosen to go it alone - a glimpse perhaps, of a steely motivation which this adventure clearly required but which is only alluded to by the author.

Moods of Future Joys isn't a rollercoaster ride of laughs and high jinks, nor is it a serious or poetic description of Africa. Ultimately it is not even a book about cycling to Cape Town - because as all cycle tourers will tell you, the destination is not the important part. A guy asked whether it was possible to cycle around the world and then he set off to see. Be careful not to choke on those Doritos as you leap off the sofa.

(For readers local to Timperley, we have these and other books on a spare Kindle that’s available for short term loan – just ask.)