Category Archives: Books


My liking for train travel is well documented, I have been reminded of this during lockdown by two separate emails, both from subscriber lists.

The National Railway Museum in York is a fascinating destination for normal times,  I have mentioned before the thrill of sharing the same space as these leviathans of steam power.  I am always delighted to see large reproductions of the classic rail travel posters, deliberately evocative and romantic.  Whilst neither term would describe train travel just now, I was none the less intrigued to see a re-imagination of these artworks, on the Museum’s website.  Sample below gives a flavour of this.

Scotland rail travel








From Waterstone’s bookshop (other bookshops are available) came news of a new train travel opus,  which looks like a grand way to escape the current everyday for a few hours.  Review here – no prizes for originality in the article title, but oh, how different it must be from the 07:09 to Edinburgh Waverley.

Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-Mile Adventure (Paperback)
Around the World in 80 Trains: A 45,000-Mile Adventure

Down the rabbit hole

Today is the bicentenary of the birth of John Tenniel,  artitst and cartoonist, noted for Punch and of course Alice in Wonderland.  From the entry in Wikipedia:-

“Tenniel’s “grotesque” was one reason why Lewis Carroll wanted Tenniel as his illustrator for the Alice books, in the sense of imparting a disturbing sense that the real world may have ceased to be reliable.

What on earth would he make of that world today?

Tip toppermost

Recently my niece Emma (who is my favourite niece of that name)  challenged me to list my top ten books via Facebook.  I could no more do this than fly in the air,  but I note below nine** books or groups of books, which had an impact on me that I still recall.

Warning: Spoilers.

The Starry Floor by Eleanor Farjeon.  Poems inspired by the constellations, Elspeth sent this to me when she moved away to Glasgow, I must have been about 7 years old.  My very first poetry book, I adored it and can still quote from it.  Still have it.

British Birds by F B Kirkman and F C R Jourdain.  Bought by my parents around 1967, for me to pore over.  It fueled a life time love affair with the avians.   Still have it.  Also Granda Stephen’s bird book, British Birds in their Haunts, Rev. C.A. Johns.  I was allowed to read this in Brightons while the grown ups talked.  I have this too, dated 1922.

A Day in Fairyland, by Sigrid Rahmas, illustrated by Ana Mai Seagren.  Our childhood fairy story book, the curatrix of which is currently Ali.  Glorious pictures in a book the size of a house, a wonderful tale of the denizens of Fairyland preparing for a party.

All the works of Iain Banks*.  The Crow Road: “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” “Why do bad things happen?” The Bridge, Espedair Street, Whit etc. Summed up the late 20th Century condition, seen from West Fife.  Phenomenal talent, much missed.

Perfume by Patrick Süskind.  I liked it as much for the historic detail as for the portrayal of a psychopath.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.  Redemption for Mr Rochester, vindication for love lorn Jane, and the wild Yorkshire moors.  Although hopefully today’s standards would mean a more empathetic outcome for Bertha.  Go into the British Library next to St Pancras station and see the original, sitting open at “Reader, I married him”.   Also see The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys for a more balanced Bertha view.

Melvin the Moose Child by Louis Slobodkin.  Gift from Granny Miller and Aunty Net.  Terrifying pictures and words, just a stroll in the forest, eh?  Scarier than Heart Of Darkness but it all ends well as Melvin makes new friends. I still have this.  I still get sweaty palms when I hold it.

Poems of New York ed. Elizabeth Schmidt, Everyman edition.  Brought this back from our 2013 visit, some terrific selections, some of which have already been quoted here.   Totally evocative of the city and invokes a nostalgia for times I didn’t even experience,  testament to the power of the words.

My Family and Other Animals etc by Gerald Durrell.  He was a grumpy character and many of his autobiographical reminiscences were made up.   But I must have read this book 20+ times when I was in my teens.  The tales of Corfu, bathed in the rosy glow of what was always going to be a happier time (pre World War 2 so draw your own conclusions) mixed with the happy if anarchic family and the countless animals, who seemed to have more sense than the humans at times, were my comfort reading.  The tale of the disembowelled turtle makes me laugh out loud.

*I have not read any Iain M. Banks.  I recognise and applaud SF as a genre, I just don’t read it, yet.


**still reading ….

in the bowl of night

I do not know what is going on just now, but I have been waking up at stupid o’clock; this morning it was 03:38 and do you think I can go back to sleep?  Can I buffalo.

So, I have now worked out how to upload pictures from my phone (use the cable for Paul’s phone, who knew?) and how to put music onto my own (slooooow).  It’s a Sony Walkman phone, you’d think it would be quick*.

Some phone pictures therefore below.

I have included a photo of Morrissey’s autobiography, on sale this weekend and the subject of various reviews and comments in the media.  I am aware that this man is a god to many, particularly those who have the good fortune to inhabit the north of England, an area of which I am very fond, and from which most of my in laws hail.   I wasn’t a fan myself, possibly because I didn’t live there, possibly because I didn’t frequent clubs, who knows.  Stuart Maconie loves him and I rate Stuart very highly.   I’m just keen to know who at Penguin publishing decided it was a good idea to use the Penguin Classic cover design/brand for a new book?  Don’t you have to hang around the shelves for half a century first?  Or is that part of the joke?

There are twelve hours in the day, and above fifty in the night.  ~Marie de Rabutin-Chantal

*wee bit of irony here, it is my humble opinion that any statement which begins “You would have thought that…” usually goes on to demonstrate that no thought process has had the briefest association with it, or was even in the same room at the time.  Example, one afternoon in Owen House, RBS days, plodding through the gentle hell of audit list checking, when one team manager was chatting to another about what was for the tea, and opined “You’d have thought they would make chickens with four legs”.

Capital times

Back from three days in the Smoke where we were delighted to meet up with chum Ruth.  We had originally planned to go to both Cambridge and London but Paul’s operation made us take a more realistic approach.   We saw two extremely good plays, Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant and Catherine Tate, and War Horse.   We were buzzing after the first and I at least was a snot-faced wreck after the second.  Other than that we walked a great deal, what I liked was suddenly finding yourself in a street of specialist shops,  for example Cecil Court, which has a fascinating history and I see here on Wiki is rumoured to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley.  I have to report, I did say to Paul that I was having a Diagon Alley moment during that same walk.  More importantly, and not the subject of conjecture, the infant prodigy Mozart lodged there during a visit to England in 1764.

Anyway, this street had antiquarian booksellers, stamps, maps, coins and bank notes enough to keep any collector very happily occupied for ages.   On display in one window was a particularly poignant  trillion dollar bank note from Zimbabwe.  We also took the fast boat to Greenwich, there to meet Ruth’s brother Richard, who is Curator at The National Maritime Museum.  Some pictures below.

Other highlights included a large variety of garden squares to amble through,  including Soho Square where there is a bench named for Kirsty McColl, and Britain’s own Tin Pan Alley, Denmark Street.

Stamp of approval

The next set of special stamps due to be issued by the Royal Mail will celebrate Magical Realms – I never thought I would ever see Nanny Ogg* (a witch in the realm of Discworld, created by Sir Terry Pratchett) on a stamp, let alone Tilda Swinton, albeit in her guise as the Snow Queen of Narnia. I have found that the works of Terry Pratchett evoke a response akin to the Marmite test and that’s fine, after all if you put work into the public forum then you must expect to receive criticism, which in itself is perfectly valid unless it’s from those who haven’t even bothered to read the books, and are just piggy backing on what they think is fashionable at which to sneer.   Anyway, for fans of Pratchett, J.K.Rowling, C.S.Lewis and err, whoever first came up with the legend of Merlin, it’s a gift.

The most recently issued set of stamps celebrated Musicals, how cool to see a Terry Gilliam cartoon in there, but if you really want to be impressed, catch the Thunderbirds are Go issue which has the opening sequence of the SuperMarionation© show in moving pictures via lenticulars on stamps, you do  have to see it to believe it.

Update on Olympics 2012 50 pence coins: – I now have the undernoted




Fencing (thank you Diana)

Goalball (nope, me neither)


and I’m hoping to have badminton, volleyball and canoeing shortly unless I am trounced on Ebay.   Some of the designs are challenging in their interpretation, as if you had taken the concept of a particular sport and put it through some philosophical equivalent of a washing machine, but the Football one is good.

* Nanny Ogg is famous for her knowledge of ribald songs, the titles of which are too rude for this page.

Beadnell’s About

Last weekend we met up with the chums from the 2008 (crikey) Norwegian cruise, down in Beadnell on the Northumbrian coast. Part of this journey involved the most sedate drive of ever down the A1, stuck as we were behind a slow moving something; despite the thirty minutes we spent behind it I never did work out what it was.  But it was grand to see everyone again, especially all looking well.  Trips included a walk on Carol’s beach to find teeny cowrie shells, and three hours easily and happily lost in this place – Barter Books of Alnwick.

Carol very kindly gave us a beautiful lantern designed and made by her daughter Poppy.  Poppy sells her designs here and you don’t need me to tell you that Papaver is Latin for Poppy.   All in all a most enjoyable weekend, it’s good to have a break in the dark days of late winter.

On edge

Went across the bridge yesterday to share in the cultural behemoth that is Edinburgh just now, as we attended the play Beautiful Burnout which was put on by the National Theatre of Scotland. It’s about boxing and I won’t say much more in case you are going to see it, but it was very well performed.  It thoroughly embraced the physicality of theatre; some plays are very worthy but they could dispense with the set and costumes since they’re simply about exposition.  Anyway, we were pushed and shoved all the way down the Royal Mile by many happy thespians, all determined to stand out against the milling throng.  To the lad dressed as a dragon, clutching the world’s only levitating chihuahua, you managed it.

We picked up the tickets at the box office and I would advise you, should you require to do this, to bring with you the card you used to pre-book.  Nowhere on the booking advice email does it tell you to do this, and when we are going Fringeing we leave at home as much as possible, since it’s a Godsend for pickpockets.  This includes credit cards.  So, we sorted that one out and went for some lunch, which was ok but did lead me to wonder how few vegetables may be put on a plate which, en masse,  still qualify as a salad.   To wit, one lettuce leaf (small) one slice of cucumber and an eight of a tomato.  Shame,  since Biblos on the corner of  Chamber Street has a  great location for people watching.  Went to the play, then went over to the Book Festival to nose around; having already accidentally bought three books in Blackwells I was sorely tempted but did not make any purchases.  Although, much as I love the Bookfest, the shop is misleading, they have several titles filed under multiple categories so you do tend to keep seeing the same ones over and over again.  But the whole gig was set up by a woman who was in the year above me at high school, and a jolly fine job she has made of it.  Mrs Ovens must be very proud.

Came home on crowded train, and the message to all you travellers out there is still the same – however hard you try to bagsy the seat next to you with your shopping, I will ask you to move it if it means that I do not have to stand.  It is unutterably selfish of you to assume otherwise.   And I am a genial cove, I will sit quietly and not disturb you since I will either be reading, thinking or bankrupting myself trying to install the Opera4 mini browser on my phone.   Regular readers of this stream of consciousness will know that I have spent a large part of my life on trains. I don’t do nutter and I will insist on good behaviour.

Still no news re baby Cook.

Beautiful Burnout