Mere Anarchy – Woody Allen

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In all honesty, I don’t know that much about Woody Allen other than some people find him funny. I love a funny book and so picked this up as an antidote to the excellent but sad book I was reading at the time. While I did find this book amusing, in a wry smile kind of way, it was also hard work. Allen’s writing is pretty laboured, full of long convoluted sentences that are very clever but in a ‘look at me I’m writing something wonderfully clever and wildly amusing’ style. I prefer the understated sort of humour that sneaks up on you and makes you laugh out loud.  Thank goodness this is a short story collection because I could only muster the required energy to wade through it in short stints. The stories were interesting, neat little jibes at the weird world we live in – often based on short news clippings. And they were really quite clever, I just wish they didn’t have to make such a laborious display of it.

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A Traveller’s Life – Eric Newby

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I am ridiculously fond of this book. It reads as if a very exciting and slightly eccentric uncle has come to stay and is sat in a battered leather armchair telling tales – each story as unexpected as the last. It is the best kind of travel writing; stuffed full of character, carting you off to places that may not even exist anymore, and never being quite sure what’s around the next bend.

Newby had a fantastic life and treats all of it as an adventure. The domestic details of growing up in London in the early 1900s are spun out with as much energy and colour as his travels abroad. It is nothing short of bizarre to find the man best known for ‘A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush’ spent a good few years of his life working in Ladies’ Fashion, and for John Lewis at that. As my own grandfather worked in a similar role in London in the 50s and 60s, it was rather touching to see this section of his life written with the same humour and energy as the more naturally exhilarating setting of crewing a tall ship across the ocean.

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Walk then Pub: West Wittering

 

So this is actually walk, drive, walk a bit, drive a bit, pub – there are pubs nearer the beach but we plumped for one that was highly recommended and within stumbling distance of where we were staying. We were lucky to have sunshine but the chill wind meant this was pretty much the only outdoor activity in a winter getaway that mainly involved sitting by the fire, playing games and sipping whisky. This is less a walking guide and more of a verbal ramble about a really very beautiful part of West Sussex.

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Bartleby the Scrivener – Herman Melville

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This tale is narrated by a very Dickensian gentleman of Wall Street. He is self important, prejudiced, stuffy and pretentious. His world, where everyone and thing has a proper place and a proper order, is rocked by the quietest of revolutionaries. A recently hired, and presumed respectable,  Bartleby voices the phrase ‘I would prefer not to’. His polite refusal defies more than just a direct instruction but the whole construction of society. This is a display of individualism that the narrator cannot countenance. It reminded me of a child asking ‘Why?’. Rather than listening and engaging with Bartleby the man, our dear spluttering narrator tries to knock sense into him with the rule book, to no avail. Bartleby’s continual refusal to integrate and conform without reason or justification eventually leads him down a grim path. There is a lot that can be read into this, but I like the idea of someone who has stood back from everyone else burrowing through life and realised that there is no ‘must’ yet in applying this indiscriminately he opts out of more than just society but also the essentials of living.

Read: At the tail end of summer in Spoke and Stringer by Bristol’s floating harbour

Felt: it was a little dry in places but I loved the overall idea of the swathes of unease and upset caused by such a simple harmless phrase.

Would recommend: hesitantly, it is an interesting thing to have read but not the most captivating of books. In between fun ones, I’d say.

Walk then Pub: Portishead

Part of the coastal walk from Portishead down to Cleavedon, this seafront walk isn’t a loop but there’s so much to see that it doesn’t really matter if you are retracing your steps for the second part, and you can easily change the length of the walk depending on weather and any little feet or paws that might be with you. We park up by the Lido, which has a lovely cafe when its open, and head south along the wide pavement of Esplanade road, up beach road west and into the park and on to the coastal path. It wanders along the shore and you can clamber down onto the beach at different points and paddle, scramble over rocks or climb amongst the trees. There’s lovely views over the water and some real dream homes to drool over if thats your thing too! This path does go quite a way along the coast but we’ve generally gone as far as our rumbling stomachs will let us before turning back and defrosting at the Windmill Inn, which has huge windows, great views and a large garden for summertime. It’s a Fuller’s pub so the quality is nothing to shout about, but suited us fine for standard stodge and chips and the menu was surprisingly varied. The Lido offers something a bit lighter and I’m sure Portishead has an array of lovely pubs, we were just too cold to go exploring any further afield!

 

Walk then Pub: lapping Bewl Water

Sussex is a pretty beautiful county and a lot of the highlights are stretched out along the coast (like Beachy Head). The distinctive fingered shape of Bewl Water reservoir is much further inland, just outside Tunbridge Wells, and is fantastic in all seasons and for all kinds of family outings. If you head to the newly developed  visitors centre you can indulge in a variety of water sports in summer or cycle round the reservoir. Parking in the lay-by on Rosemary lane and geared up with wellies or walking boots, dog walkers can amble along peacefully, past the Duke of Edinburgh kids with heavy packs and the odd fisherman. The best kept secret of the reservoir is the food at Beals Barn garden centre. Not far from the main carpark, it’s a lovely setting for some well-earned refreshment, made mostly from local or homegrown ingredients!

 

 

Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates 

As per usual, I had all sorts of preconcieved ideas about this book that proved to be completely wrong – if only there was a suitable book-related idiom about not judging things on appearances…

Frank and April are a married couple in 1950s America. He was meant to be ‘something’ but now works in a mundane office job he hates. She is beautiful, a trained actress and now playing the suburban wife and mother. No-one is happy. To begin with, I thought this was going to be well written but dry – from the first page I was writing down quotes in my little green book of nicely made phrases but I wasn’t really emotionally involved.

Things like:

The trouble was that from the very beginning they had been afraid they would end by making fools of themselves and they compounded that fear by being afraid to admit it.

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