Reading matters……

Ill-Keep-You-Safe-262x400.jpgAnother of F.’s books, I just got in first again. Peter May is a Crime writer, but for the greater part of this book I wondered where this was going in terms of a Crime plot. It seemed more ‘Welcome to the island of Harris – we’ll tell you some things you didn’t know about this special place’. Well it certainly is special. But I couldn’t help thinking all along that my son had spent a week there with his school pal who comes from Harris and he has always said ‘Never again’. What a dispiriting place it seems. So, the plot. The two protagonists own a company that makes an upmarket alternative to Harris Tweed, one of them is blown up by a car bomb in Paris. There is a desultory search for the perpetrators. Some off-beam characters are drawn as possible suspects and then, right at the end, and as obvious as obvious can be, the partner turns out not to have been blown up after all. Weak. I would say so. I was thoroughly disappointed at the end and rather glad to get onto something else.

Sarah Langford’s ‘In Your Defence’ is one of those brilliant books that keep you up at9781784163082.jpg night, that you don’t want to put down, you don’t want to end, and which teaches you so much you didn’t know. Whilst it was her love of words that inspired her to take up the law, Sarah took an unprivileged, unconventional route that however stood her in good stead and made her determined to succeed in what is still a profession full of privilege and some bias against women. However this story is not about her it is very much about her clients, and in particular 11 clients in 11 different cases which she outlines in some detail. Each case starts with the location of the trial (changed along with personal details to protect clients’ anonymity) and a tiny note on the law involved in the particular case. These get your mind racing before you know anything about the case.  Sarah then takes us through each story from start to finish. All of the cases are to do with Family or Criminal Law. And wow how you get involved. Of course her job is to represent clients whether she believes them innocent or guilty, and to us looking in from the outside, this in itself poses incredible moral dilemmas. But, as she says herself,  “Life is not binary,” “There is very rarely a situation where there is no other version of the story.” Intricate points of Law are explained in notes at the end of the book. The cases range from a woman charged with conspiracy after a burglary, and a young man accused of assaulting three police officers during an arrest that leaves him with cuts and bruises on his hand, ribs and head to a child whose views are, unusually, taken into account in deciding which of his divorced parents he should live with. You come away feeling battered, hugely impressed with the Judges and Barristers involved, and scandalised by how little someone like Sarah is rewarded for the efforts she puts in. A thrilling book.

Reading matters…….

51YNGSmcaXL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg‘Thomas Cromwell : the untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant‘ by Tracy Borman is a splendid history of the man and his times. It is amazing, and indeed reassuring how closely all of this ‘real’ history follows Hilary Mantel’s novels. As with all well written and researched histories Tracy’s book flows, and is almost like a Crime novel in that you want to keep turning the pages to see what happens next. And believe me a lot does happen. Cromwell, who I studied at school and Uni as a great administrator is a man of his times. A great administrator yes, but also a philosopher, a well-read man of huge intelligence, a deeply religious man, a brutal and cunning and ruthless but loyal politician who right up to his last few days in the Tower knew how to manipulate the King and his Council, many of whom looked down upon a man risen from the gutter just as they had looked down upon his predecessor Wolsey a butcher’s son. It is no wonder that King Henry lived to regret his decision to cut off his head. As I say, this biography is absolutely compelling reading. The only little criticism I can make is that Tracy Borman, when no other sources are left to her, is willing to use the same ambassadors’ letters home (the Venetian and Spanish ambassadors particular) that she criticises in another breath as being difficult to give too much credence to. Having said that, I so much enjoyed getting to know Thomas Cromwell, and didn’t want the book (or his life!) to end………

Rummaging around in a WHS remainder shop in Plymouth (I hadn’t realised they existed), we found a couple of  books which were extremely good value. So I bought a9780007950096_1.jpg new copy of the hardback ‘The Complete Great British Railway Journeys’ priced at £40 for just £4. Amazing! The book is a compilation of ‘Great British Railway Journeys’ and ‘Great Victorian Railway Journeys’ and based on the very enjoyable BBC programmes fronted by Michael Portillo with those names. It is really for dipping into but I read it straight through, over a few weeks admittedly, and really loved all the insight into the ‘history, landscape and people of Britain’ that it gave. Partly a reflection of how much things have changed since the publication of Bradshaw’s Guide to the lines in question, but also a celebration of how much has survived and the progress that has been made, I found such a lot to interest me and so many references to subjects new to me. From the Victorian find of the Bronze Age Gristhorpe man, still on display in Scarborough, to the Preston cotton mill riots (I was born there, opposite a cotton mill) and the establishment of the Temperance Movement in Preston, I was surprised at my lack of knowledge. Great, and very satisfying, to remedy a few gaps.

51PZw3NJuxL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgWith her Christmas present of a National Book Token, F. bought 4 books when we were out the other day and I have already finished one of them. In truth it didn’t take me long. It was so good. It was the kind of book you would walk around the house reading not wanting to put it down. I rationed myself to bedtime reading mainly, and there followed a few nights of reading till well past 1am. ‘Dead If You Don’t’ is the book in question and the author Peter James stand at the pinnacle of Crime writing. His DS Superintendent Roy Grace novels are set in Brighton where he lives, and where he has astonishing contacts with the Police and others and which means all the procedural stuff is spot-on. This one is about a kidnapping and about the Albanian criminal fraternity living in Brighton. It is also about many other things including the corruption of wealth, the dangers of gambling, and of course about the personal interactions of Grace with family and friends. It is taut, well written and exciting. Can you praise a Crime novel more?

Reading Matters….

the-daughter-of-time-7.jpgDuring our recent visit to Edinburgh I found this ‘The Daughter of Time’ on my daughter’s shelves. I had already read it but was anxious to do so again as I got terrific enjoyment the first time. I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination you could call Tey a great writer….I have read other of her titles and been immensely disappointed, but this is something else. A detective recovering in hospital, flat on his back most of the time, comes across, amongst the gifts friends and colleagues have been bringing in, a portrait of Richard III. He asks himself…is this the face of a man who could commit the murder of his two nephews in the Tower, an event heinous even then. His detective brain starts whirling and he is soon loaded down with serious histories, copies of documents and more trying to sift the evidence looking for clues as to who did actually ‘commission’ the murders. A brilliant tapestry of the times is woven as he refuses to accept the history written by the winners, in other words the Tudors, unless there is factual back-up. Although a Lancastrian myself, and a historian, I have always had a soft spot for Richard III and thought him ill-used by History. Although this is a novel it grips as real history always does. My two favourite subjects, History and Detectives, and this is part History/part Detective. I really couldn’t ask for more.

Since we had a leak in the new roof in the conservatory I have had to move a lot of Unknown.jpegthings out of there, including many books. Noticing one of these, ‘Shakespeare’s Restless World’ I picked it up and started idly leafing through it. I saw immediately that this was only part-read so I resolved to start again. I am so glad I did. It is so well-produced with clear text and beautiful images, and so well-written by ex-Director of The British Museum Neil MacGregor, that it is sheer pleasure. Neil has chosen 20 objects (not only from the BM) to illustrate various aspects of what Shakespeare’s world was really like. These range from the failed attempts of James I to put together a joint flag for the Great Britain he wanted to be a reality, to a woollen apprentice’s cap in absolutely remarkable condition, to a pedlar’s trunk complete with contents, to a brass-handled iron fork lost at the Rose Theatre, the ownership of which was a sign of absolute sophistication. And he uses the objects to telling effect, delving deeply into the full range of Shakespeare’s work. So, my other favourite subject History/Shakespeare is well catered for in this splendid book.

hamlet-arden-shakespeare.jpegWhich leads me on to saying that, having aroused my interest in WS once again, I could not forgo the immediate and absolute pleasure of reading again for the umpteenth time the play ‘Hamlet’ which for me represents the height of literary achievement. It was something I studied in great detail for ‘A’ levels. I have seen the play a few times. I have seen a couple of films. For me it never palls. I read this time round the Arden edition which has copious footnotes and explanatory material, but I must admit that I am easily distracted by these and actually found all of this tiresome as the Editor Harold Jenkins seemed to be engaged a lot of the time in scoring points off previous editors and commentators. Hamlet is too good for this. Best just to read it straight through and make your own sense of it.

Reading matters….

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So, Dame Stella Rimington. Joined MI5 in1968 and worked in all the main fields of the Service before being appointed D-G, the first woman to hold the post, in 1992. Does her life experience lead to her novels being excellent representations of what the Sevice does? It surely does. Her books are bang up-to-date. Each theme she tackles is sparklingly relevant to what is happening in the world today. In fact her Liz Carlyle novels are frightening in their relevance. In quick succession I read ‘Rip Tide’, ‘Close Call’ and ‘Breaking Cover’, all excellent reads, all unputdownable. The back stories about family and love life are credible (and presumably like the plots based on real life), and the stories themselves are exciting in the extreme. Do read them. You will not be disappointed. The fact that I read all three without any interruption and F. is doing the 51MxbEeDujL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgsame speaks volumes. Having finished my trilogy I moved on to ‘The Girl Who Takes An Eye For An Eye’ which I have to say was one of the most boring reads I have had for a long long time. Stieg Larsson’s original books were sensational and have been made into excellent films of course, but this…..considering it is supposed to be a thriller there was not one iota of excitement in all of its too many pages. if this is the best that can be done the franchise has certainly had its day. I won’t bore myself any more by talking of the plot….there wasn’t one!

71x1YeoiE1L.jpgOver Christmas I happened to mention to my son-in-law the novel that Julian Barnes put together based on how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took up the case of a Birmingham half-caste solicitor George Edalji who was imprisoned as the guilty party in the so-called Great Wyrley Outrages where animals were savaged in the Midlands locality where he lived. A shocking miscarriage of justice about which Conan Doyle created a huge fuss in real life is subsumed in a gripping story which relates the development of the two main characters into the people they were and then their inter-reaction. A literary masterpiece, shortlisted for the Booker, it should surely have won. Anyway I shall be posting it off to Nasar and hope he enjoys it as much as I did for the second time.

Reading matters…..

cicero_cvr1_h750-1.jpgAnother Folio read from my collection – this one still in its cellophane wrapper, unopened for, what, 15 years, and what a find. Apart from the moderniste illustrations which I disliked intensely this was an amazing read. Basically it is Cicero’s speeches in court usually for the defence. The florid language and the egotistical approach are to the fore but the content is mind-boggling. Apart from the fact that the extensive notes in this issue take you right through Roman history up to the first Emperors, the speeches themselves take you right into the heart of what it was to be a Roman. I studied Latin to A Level and have always liked reading about Roman history, but this was something else. You really felt you were there in the Senate or court house listening to someone who has always been regarded as one of the greatest orators of all time. And the daily life described, and the political machinations, so like what we know ourselves. These people, apart from obvious differences, were human beings with human foibles who could be living next door to us now. What a privilege it was to read (over a period of several months) these extremely detailed accounts of what was going on in the late Republican era. Unlike modern court cases Cicero’s defences usually rested on the question Crassus apparently alway asked ‘Who stands to benefit?’, and thereafter minute dissection of character. So they were hardly objective, but that all adds to the spice. A book to lose yourself in….

Not sure I have talked about this before but this highly illustrated edition of ‘Under Milk51eKHyeFcJL._SX418_BO1204203200_-1.jpg Wood’ is a wonderful thing to have. I just love the beautiful language of Dylan and his over-fertile imagination. The nearest thing I can think of is Homer with his ‘wine-dark sea’. No-one but no-one else could have written this, and the fact that his life was, in a sense, so tragic and cut short is to be heavily regretted. Peter Blake the famous British artist spent 28 years on a labour of love drawing and painting all of the characters and imaginings from the story/poem and this is now a wonderful accompaniment to the text. It just adds an extra dimension. Having spent some time living and working in South  Wales which I always remember fondly, I do find myself reading with a Welsh lilt trying to replicate Richard Burton. As if!

item_XL_10610563_13939767.jpgNow here’s an interesting book. I have never really bothered with it, thinking it to dwell in the realms of the astrological, which is not for me. However, having dipped into it I find that, far from that, it takes pains to examine the great stories of Myth in all the main cultures and religions. ‘Here, from every corner of the globe, are tales of the world’s creation, undying love, the Sun and the Moon, gods of the weather, tricksters, terrible monsters, the afterlife and the underworld, and more.’ Christopher Dell shows how many myths share common patterns, and this is the really fascinating thing about it. I found it, to be honest, quite astounding how stories in one religion are very nearly exactly the same in another. So, just as the ancient Greeks, when dead, crossed the river Styx so the Japanese crossed the river Sanzu. Or take honey. The OT is full of references to honey, suggestive of sweetness and leisure, and one of the chapters of the Koran entitled ‘The Bee’ describes it as ‘a cure for men’. In Hinduism honey is used in worship or as a sacrifice.  To us the most famous example of flooding comes from the OT where Noah builds his ark to save every species in The Great Flood. In the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh Utnapishtim is advised by the God Enki to build an ark before his brother sends a great deluge. In Greek mythology, Zeus decides to flood the world too…..Prometheus however forewarns his son who prepares a chest of provisions in which he and his wife float around for 9 days. In Hindu myth the human Manu is warned of the flood by Vishnu and is able to save himself in time. One can only imagine that a lot of the Myths had a common source, and that in turn leads to lots of philosophical questions. I’ll leave those to someone else!

 

 

Reading Matters….and a film

140460.jpgStella Rimington makes use of all her history and knowledge as Director General of MI5 in her series of novels about her alter ego Liz Carlyle. I hadn’t read one of her novels for some time but having picked up this at a good price it was to be my bedtime reading for some nights. However ‘The Geneva Trap’ was so good that I couldn’t resist delving into it during the daytime too. It was a great read from beginning to end. Basic outline of the plot from Bloomsbury (terrific publisher)….’Geneva, 2012. When a Russian intelligence officer approaches MI5 with vital information about the imminent cyber-sabotage of an Anglo-American Defence programme, he refuses to talk to anyone but Liz Carlyle. But who is he, and what is his connection to the British agent?
At a tracking station in Nevada, US Navy officers watch in horror as one of their unmanned drones plummets out of the sky, and panic spreads through the British and American Intelligence services. Is this a Russian plot to disable the West’s defences? Or is the threat coming from elsewhere?
As Liz and her team hunt for a mole inside the MOD, the trail leads them from Geneva, to Marseilles and into a labyrinth of international intrigue, in a race against time to stop the Cold War heating up once again…’

But the plot is just a part of the enjoyment – the relationships between key personnel in MI5 and MI6 are a significant element in the development of the story. And the locations are characterful (I do actually think Stella Rimington could make a bit more of ‘location’). I really would highly recommend this novel. Just as good as Le Carre, Graham Greene etc and you can’t give higher praise than that. I must buy some more.

the-girl-in-the-spiders-web-1-e1537879398393-700x356.jpgYesterday we went to Vue Plymouth to see the latest Scandi-Noir film – ‘The Girl In The Spider’s Web’. Now I have read the book (an unfinished script by Stieg Larsson) which I enjoyed, but the reviews of the film were what you call mixed, so I wasn’t anticipating a great afternoon. However I really enjoyed our outing to the cinema (so much more of an experience than sitting at home watching on a small screen, as I have said many a time). And the lead was just great. We had seen both Swedish and American versions of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’, both with good lead actresses, but the Swedish version infinitely superior, so I was really apprehensive about seeing Claire Foy (recently, I hear, good as Queen Elizabeth II / Princess Elizabeth) in the demanding role. I regarded her as a somewhat conservative actor. She was absolutely marvellous here. The film itself was a bit James Bond-like with massive action, chases, gadgetry and all the rest, the plot obviously implausible. But that mattered not at all. You sank yourself into the adventure and went along with it. The only annoying thing? Film scheduled for 1.15pm, didn’t actually start until 1.50pm after all the adverts and previews. Far too long.

My worthy reading matter for a few months has been ‘Soul of the Age’ by Jonathan 51AKsVqp0TL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgBate, subtitles ‘the Life, Mind and World of William Shakespeare’. An incredible piece of work, almost a lifetime’s work you would say (except that Jonathan is still young). David Crystal concludes ‘completely fresh and full of surprises…’. It is certainly that. And Simon Russell Beale..’bursting with new idea and crafty analysis…’. I just wonder whether Jonathan is at times, quite often in fact, too clever by half. His knowledge is certainly immense. From the early stages when he talks of Lear’s fantastic garland

‘Crowned with rank fumiter, and furrow weeds,                                                                         With hardocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo flowers,                                                                     Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow                                                                                                                                         In our sustaining corn.’

and comments that these are exactly what one would find in an arable field and its margin in England at the end of Summer, one is almost bewitched by the superior knowledge on display and keen to learn, so that we can appreciate Shakespeare in a new light. But the more Jonathan delves into Shakespeare’s life and his world,  and the wider he casts his net, the less plausible do I find his conclusions. He is keen to castigate critic after critic, but his own jumps in reasoning based on the flimsiest of evidence or downright supposition led me fairly soon to lose faith. Having said that, I found the whole book incomparably interesting and, as his friend Beale said, a dazzling portrait.
27/11/2018

Reading matters…….and an important film

51ZsJbutzLL.jpgThis book has been at the back of my mind for some reason, so I dug it out for  a re-read after, what, 40 years or more. It is one of George Orwell’s most powerful and best novels. Let’s get it clear, I am one of those currently politically-incorrect people who believe the British Empire did far more good in the world than critics (who tend to concentrate on single events or themes) would have you believe. And in any case, as a historian, I would argue that it is absolutely impossible to set huge infrastructure improvements, educational and civilising influences, the keeping of the peace world-wide for long periods, etc etc against slavery in the early stages of the Empire, and various unjustifiable (in today’s terms) massacres and ill-treatment of subject nations. The Empire was of its time. It was what it was. However this novel by Orwell is a very, very powerful rebuke to people like me and an antidote to any positive reading of the ‘benefits’ of Empire. I was surprised to find out that this was Orwell’s first novel. It certainly doesn’t read like a first. Basically it tells the tale of a minor English player in Burma in the waning days of the Empire, how he lives and loves, how he reacts unsuccessfully to the embittered views of other members of the Club in the little town in Burma where the story is set. The story doesn’t have a happy ending, and the protagonist’s life and death are perhaps a metaphor for Empire itself. It is based actually on Orwell’s own experiences, he spent five years from 1922 to 1927 as a police officer in the Indian Imperial Police force in Burma. In a letter from 1946, Orwell said “I dare say it’s unfair in some ways and inaccurate in some details, but much of it is simply reporting what I have seen”. It was dynamite in its day and only published in the States at first, and it’s not hard to see why. In my opinion a great read.

We recently found a WHSmith’s remainder outlet in Plymouth. I have never seen one before. Anyhow it inevitably led to the buying of some books. We got a Peter James 817flfX-18L.jpgsigned hardback ‘Dead Man’s Time’ for £6, not bad. It has been my bedtime reading. As always Peter has interesting characters including his protagonist DS Grace. But all the major and minor actors are well-drawn. And as always there is a slightly unusual story line. In this case a 95 year old wanting revenge for something that happened in his childhood, and revenge for the recent torture and murder of his elder sister. The plot is interesting and takes lots of turns. Brighton doesn’t feature quite as much as in some of his novels…a shame as I like a strong ‘Place’ element. But with the plot capturing you and lots of small chapters (ideal for bedtime reading) what’s not to like. Procedure, one assumes, is exemplary as Peter has intimate access to lots and lots of Police folk in Brighton and he makes full use of his detailed knowledge of how the Police work. All in all another thoroughly enjoyable novel by one of the creme de la creme in Crime writers.

1_PeterlooFilm.jpgWe saw recently the Mike Leigh film ‘Peterloo’. Maxine Peak, one of my favourite actresses, is one of the main characters. A review I had read in The Times had slated it, mainly it seems on the grounds that there was too much dialogue in meetings etc and not enough action. How feeble critics are. What a world we live in where there has to be movement and action all the time! It was quite long at two and a half hours but I didn’t notice this ……unlike The Times critic I was absorbed. What it is about is the background to, and the events of, the Peterloo ‘massacre’ in 1819. The Guardian precises it nicely…’     On 16 August 1819, at what we would now call a pro-democracy demonstration in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, an excitable band of cavalry and yeomanry – whose commander had airily absented himself for a day at the races – charged with sabres drawn into a crowd of 60,000 unarmed people, many of whom were unable to escape the enclosed space. The troops killed 18 and injured hundreds more……It was Britain’s 19th-century mix of Sharpeville and Hillsborough. The government was entirely delighted with the result, and not displeased with the nickname “Peterloo”, as it felt like a rerun of its victory over Napoleon, the creature of something it continued to fear intensely: the French Revolution.’                                                                                                                             But the thing is, it was in many ways a victory for democracy – for never again would any Government allow such dramatic military actions to be taken against people expressing their free will in a public meeting. And eventually the Great Reform Act and Anti-Corn Laws legislation would be passed. It also led The Times to take up, to some degree, the whole issue of Reform, and almost directly led to the founding of The Manchester Guardian ( a great newspaper, sadly since its move to London a shadow of its former self). So a film on very important issues with some relevance to today and a topic ‘Peterloo’ which is hardly on the syllabus in schools. Mike Leigh himself has said children should be taught about Peterloo. “They will know about 1066 and Magna Carta and Henry VIII and his six wives and they may be told about the French revolution and the battle of Waterloo … [The massacre] was a major, major event which resonated down the 19th century into the 20th century in the context of democracy and suffrage.” Manchester Histories, a charity, is leading the campaign for Peterloo to be taught in all schools. What I didn’t like about the film (this and many others!) was how unrealistic the settings and stages were. It’s all very well finding a great location but covering the streets with sand of all things in order to hide yellow parking lines just doesn’t cut the mustard. The same with the characters. The poor of Manchester were atrociously dirty and smelly. It’s no use just dressing them up in costumes Hollywood-style. And everywhere was so clean. In reality you couldn’t see a hand in front of you because of the smoke and the smog. All wrong, wrong wrong……..

 

 

 

 

Reading matters….

Unknown.jpegAnother slow-burn Brunetti novel whose main elements are the setting – Venice, and Brunetti himself and his relationships with colleagues and family. The plot or plots take second place. A corrupt pharmacist, an entangled female doctor, and possible murder – all a bit humdrum. But how I like following Brunetti around Venice and seeing how his personal ups and downs work out. Quite a lot of philosophy in this one too, and moral dilemmas to make us think. And at the end of it all not a happy ending. I just love it…..Donna Leon is an excellent writer and certainly gets right beneath the skin of Italy and Italians, allowing us to understand things like the North-South divide, the irritation at tourists, and much else.

41Q9A8KC1YL_SS500_.jpegNow, we are off to Manchester for 5 days (it’s where I come from), to see whether this might be a place for our next house. Cornwall v Manchester – sounds like there is only one winner, but I’m not so sure. What Manchester has got (apart from some rain…..actually less rain than Plymouth over the year), is culture….restaurants, bars, cinemas, theatre, music, museums,  football (ManCity my team is the best in the world right now according to some authorities, and probably the best that there has been in the Premier League era), and loads of visible and easily accessible History. We were last up there for the Commonwealth Games and it had much improved from my youth. My thinking is that it will have improved another several notches, from what I read. Anyhow, as always, before going anywhere I have done lots of research and dug out three or four books in particular. Charles Nevin’s ‘Lancashire’ is the pick of the bunch, a book that I simply couldn’t put down despite having read it at least twice before. It is so so funny, so enlightening, so full of mischief, and gets right to the heart of what it means to be a Lancastrian. And, for me, it is so nostalgic. Nevin talks of places I know, football line-ups which take me back 50 years, and  big names of Rugby League I had forgotten all about but which I can picture in full 3D colour or should that be Black and White. But don’t let that put you off. Nevin is everywhere – from listening in to old ladies on the bus, to discussing Shakespeare’s Lancashire period with eminent historians, to some of the higher reaches of philosophy, taking us on a journey at break-neck speed through everything Lancashire. Have you heard of Donizetti’s opera ‘Emilia Di Liverpool’? No neither had I! Think Southport has a touch of Paris about it – particularly in the tree-lined Lord Street? Think again. Haussmann modelled his new Paris on Southport (probably). Why, Balzac of all people has a character in his  ‘Le Lys Dans La Valle’ tell her seducer that Lancashire is ‘the county where women die of love’!! Thus the subtitle of this splendid book. I could go on, almost indefinitely, about why Lancashire is the best place to live, and Nevin certainly does go on, but let me leave you with this quote from Abraham Lincoln – talking of the Lancashire cotton workers’ solidarity with his North in the Civil War, and support for the abolition of slavery, whilst most of them were absolutely destitute – because of this support (cotton could no longer be got from the South to keep the mills running)….Lincoln called this ‘an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country’. Well!! I am proud.

41FFVDXZ9QL._SX257_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOn now to my factual books each telling me about Manchester in very different ways. The modern Pevsner’s architectural guides are usually rather good, and in fact in my opinion a lot better than the originals which, although a massive and unparalleled achievement, are dry as dust. ‘Manchester’ by Clare Hartwell is much more contemporary. It discusses all the major buildings in Manchester at the date of publication. As this was 2002 it shows the real drawback of this type of book…..so much has happened since which isn’t covered. Still, an excellent introduction.

‘Manchester Compendium’ is different again. It is basically a street-by-street history of image-1.jpgthe city. So we are taken on walks through the centre and its most important suburbs. And interesting walks they are too. Glinert is a great guide. All human life is here, as the old News of the World used to say. Everything from the history of the buildings themselves, the people, their culture, it is a real mish-mash of often quirky stuff which is very engaging indeed. I learned a lot about my city that I didn’t know.

51zz2helysl-_sx345_bo1204203200_.jpg‘Manchester The Hidden History’ is a more conventional history but based mainly on the more recent archaeological surveys. and with all the new building that has been going on in the last 30 or so years there have been more than a few of those. More for the serious historian (as I sometimes imagine myself!). Can’t wait to get there.

 

 

 

 

Reading matters…

51YRVWrN1PL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgF. and I do have bus passes which enable us to travel free on all local buses – well except in Wales and Scotland, which is a pity. Still, what a privilege and how we make use of them. There are arguments currently going the rounds that the elderly are well-off and that the young should be given free bus passes in their place. However, how else would half the country spend their time, and what mischief would they get up to? Perhaps more to the point, if a pensioner takes a bus journey to somewhere he or she wouldn’t otherwise be going and spends money in that place, even if only a cup of tea and a biscuit then economic benefit has been gained. And before any political party is brave enough to abolish bus passes for the elders (and betters), they should first do the economic sums. All this a result of me picking up my copy of ‘Bus-pass Britain Rides Again’. A terrific book with individual contributors talking in some51fioyn7hol.jpg detail about their favourite (free) journeys. So many places to see, so little time! Having thoroughly enjoyed my re-read I sent away for ‘Route 63’ where Dave Hadfield travels the length and breadth of England on his bus-pass. A book of mild enjoyment. It is more stream of consciousness pub humour than anything else. You have to admire Dave. His free bus pass is because he has Parkinson’s. He is obviously someone you would really like to have a few pints with, but I could have done with just a bit less humour and witty asides and very subjective assessment and more nitty gritty.

Robert Harris has to be one of my very favourite authors. His books are so compelling and so well-researched. His Cicero trilogy was so convincing that you 51wi66ojsil-_sx331_bo1204203200_.jpgreally felt he had got to grips with what it was like to live in Ancient Rome. In ‘Munich’ he turns his attention to what went on in the two Governments – Germany and Britain – as events took their turn for the worse. He builds up a very believable main character in Hugh Legat a member of the Diplomatic Service who becomes intimately involved in key events as he does more and more work for Chamberlain. But I was particularly impressed with how we get a very rounded impression indeed of what Chamberlain was like and what he stood for. Much maligned by many historians this novel gives an alternative view and is all the better for that. And who is to say it is not correct? The Victorian historian Maitland cautioned ‘We should always be aware that what now lies in the past once lay in the future’ (something many historians do not understand), and it is from this exact premise that Robert Harris constructs his novel. Very enjoyable indeed. there was program on TV recently about the Booker Prize where one commentator bemoaned the fact that someone such as Robert Harris would never win the Booker. How right he was. Better Robert Harris than a lot of the pretentious crap (excuse me) that does actually win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading matter and reading matters….

As ex-bookshop owners you would expect us to say that, but of course reading does matter and we are really glad to see our predictions come true and e-readers take a tumble in favour of real books. Our ex-shops Warwick Books and Kenilworth Books are thriving we are glad to Unknown.jpegsay. I have had quite a variety of reading material recently. From my shelves, previously unread, the Folio edition of ‘Sir Harry Hotspur’ by Trollope. Well, Trollope is always a slow-burn, and all the better for that, but this was a long drawn-out tale. It encompassed some of the themes Trollope does so well – class, ne’er-do-wells, Victorian morals, fate, love stories, pride before a fall, and once I got into it (which was a bit difficult) was very enjoyable indeed. It is in fact regarded as one of Trollope’s finest short novels and describes the vacillations of a land-owning father, torn between the desire to marry his daughter off to a cousin destined to inherit the family title, and his fear that the cousin, reportedly a gambler, liar and much else, is unworthy of her. The tale has an unhappy ending – top marks for that

A recent buy at half-price from the very much improved Waterstones was the new hardback Strike novel ‘Lethal White’. Here’s the blurb…’When Billy, a troubled young 91qWWm0iVML.jpgman, comes to private eye Cormoran Strike’s office to ask for his help investigating a crime he thinks he witnessed as a child, Strike is left deeply unsettled. While Billy is obviously mentally distressed, and cannot remember many concrete details, there is something sincere about him and his story. But before Strike can question him further, Billy bolts from his office in a panic.                                                                                           Trying to get to the bottom of Billy’s story, Strike and Robin Ellacott – once his assistant, now a partner in the agency – set off on a twisting trail that leads them through the backstreets of London, into a secretive inner sanctum within Parliament, and to a beautiful but sinister manor house deep in the countryside.                                                                                            And during this labyrinthine investigation, Strike’s own life is far from straightforward: his newfound fame as a private eye means he can no longer operate behind the scenes as he once did. Plus, his relationship with his former assistant is more fraught than it ever has been – Robin is now invaluable to Strike in the business, but their personal relationship is much, much more tricky than that . . .’                                                                The key points about this very long story, more than 600 pages, are that the plot is convoluted (therefore difficult bed-time reading, at least in my eyes), rather far-fetched and at the same time rather boring, but the on-going relationship between Strike and Robin is by far the strongest theme running through it (and a good one). I can imagine Andrew Davies making hay with this! A little disappointing, certainly not a riveting thriller, but worth a half-price hardback purchase!

9781846682131_Z 2.jpegA book on railways? Surely for anoraks only, but no, this history of the railways covers an amazing array of aspects of social and industrial history and the profound influence that the railways had on them, and tells us a lot about the Victorian period and onwards which I for one, historian though I am, didn’t know. Indeed the book was The Sunday Times History Book of the Year in 2015Also, the publisher is Profile Books who publish the most interesting books around. And, the author is not any old railway nerd, (although he is a railway nerd ), but the joint editor of the Pevsner architectural guides so he has a wonderful pedigree.                                                                                                                           So what does Simon Bradley tell us? Or what doesn’t he tell us……I was interested for instance to learn that Anthony Trollope, who worked for the Post Office tells, in his Autobiography, how he found “after a few days exercise I could write as quietly in a railway carriage as I could at my desk. In this way was composed the greater part of Barchester Towers.” In other words, railways changed lives. They changed the landscape. They changed the way Industry and Agriculture operated. They reinforced the class system. They were the basis for much technological change. And their building was one of the greatest physical achievements in our history.                                                                   But all at a cost. The social reformer Edwin Chadwick for instance compared the chances of death or serious injury among the workforce building the infrastructure with those of one of Wellington’s battles, concluding that a private soldier had a better chance of coming away unscathed from Waterloo or Salamanca than a navvy from Woodhead. This is what is great about Bradley’s book – as well as painting the big picture he supplies all kinds of memorable details that make this a book that anyone, not just enthusiasts for railways, would want to read. I heartily recommend it – to anyone.