Because we saw a fascinating programme on TV about named trains and the loss of so much heritage on the railways I bought a couple of train-related books which have proved to be brilliant. The first ‘The Trains Now Departed’ is about a lot of what we have lost described in 16 different thematic chapters. One for instance is entitled ‘Last Call For The Dining Car’ and bemoans the loss of crisp tablecloths, silver service, and six-course gourmet meals amongst other things. Astonishingly even at the close of the nationalised era in 1994 there were 249 trains a day with dining cars open to both first- and standard-class passengers. Now they don’t need counting. Interestingly, it is on ‘our’ line – the GWR from Paddington to Penzance – that the best survives. Here is the author Michael Williams relishing the service on The Cornishman….’by Slough I am tucking into a proper cheese shuffle, a rarity in a restaurant these days let alone on a train; curiously the last time I enjoyed it as much was at The Garrick Club. At Reading I’m selecting from a menu including ‘Silver Mullet with Roasted Garlic’ and ‘Grilled Somerset Fillet Steak’. By Exeter I’m wondering if I can squeeze in the ‘Chocolate and Salted Caramel Pudding’ as well as the “Artisan Cheese Selection with Quince Jelly’. As we pass along the coast at Dawlish, one of the most sublime views from any railway carriage in the world, I’m…….’ We really must try to book this as a treat some time. Have a look at the current menu.…
The other book which I couldn’t resist buying was ‘Mile By Mile : An Illustrated Journey On Britain’s Railways’ doing what it says – describing what you will see on the rail network (in 1947). It is fascinating, and I really must take this with me when we travel soon to London on the train to see how much things have changed. Nostalgic and full of memorable photos of the railway scene in those years. I will also use it more locally…here for instance is the entry on passing Menheniot which is ver near here but which we have never visited…’The pretty village of Menheniot has a fine medieval church whee William of Wykham was once incumbent. just after Menheniot, off to the right can be seen wonderful views of Dartmoor. Those with a keen eye may make out the Cheesewring the creation of this pile of stones has been attributed to giants but it was actually a geographical formation which created this unearthly stack of stones in this windswept place…..’
…….. I have more than one book on the South-West Coast Path but I enjoyed this addition which is a day-by-day account of walking the Cornwall bit of the path. The author is a conservation specialist, but in putting together the book he was helped by his wife who is a historian so that it is absolutely full of fascinating detail. It all sounded a bit of a slog (not surprising since he covered 16-20 miles per day), whereas I am happy to do it in very small chunks which allows you time to appreciate all that is on offer. I shall use this book to pick on some highlights.
Since we visited Falmouth recently I decided to re-read ‘The Levelling Sea’ by Philip Marsden. I am so glad I did. It is both instructive, entertaining and even inspiring. Philip has great empathy with the sea himself and is always fully aware of its potential and dangers. He skilfully shows how location, and a series of amazing characters through the ages, led to the important role Falmouth played in the national story and, as a good historian, he pushes us along in a whirlwind of discovery and interest whilst always basing his breathtaking story on serious research. One of the very best books on local history without any doubt.
Going to the marvellous exhibition on Stanhope Forbes at Penzance led me to acquire the accompanying book and catalogue written by a serious art historian Elizabeth Knowles. I was reluctant to buy this as it was £20 and a paperback, but F. persuaded me into it knowing full well I would derive great pleasure…..which I duly did. A marvellous life story, fantastic reproductions of the great paintings, and a permanent reminder of our visit. What more could one ask?
Bedtime recently has been ‘Last Tango In Aberystwyth’ by Malcolm Pryce, the second in the series of comic crime noir novels set in the town which Malcolm must know so well (he wrote this particular novel in Bangkok). He writes in the style of Raymond Chandler and has been labelled “the king of Welsh noir”. His Aberystwyth Noir novels are incongruously set on the rainswept streets of an alternate universe version of the Welsh seaside resort and university town of Aberystwyth. The hero of these novels is Louie Knight the best private detective in Aberystwyth (also the only private detective in Aberystwyth), who battles crime organised by the local Druids investigates the strange case of the town’s disappearing youths, and gets involved in its burgeoning film industry, which produces What The Butler Saw movies. I said somewhere that I don’t often re-read books, but I see I have been doing quite a lot of that recently. No point in having them entirely as decoration I suppose. Reading this again was not quite so amusing as the first time round, but I am inclined to read another in the series.