Sunday Salon

Not much reading here today as D and I are off out with the family this afternoon.

This morning I’ll be reading more from Griff Rhys Jones’s memoir Semi-Detached, which is coming on nicely. I’m now up to the part where Griff is in his final year at school. I loved his description of cricket that I read yesterday.

I hate and abhor cricket. I loathe cricket. I abominate cricket. There is only one thing more boring than the abysmal English habit of watching a game of cricket and that is an afternoon playing the wretched game. It is sport for the indolently paralysed. Only three people out of twenty two are engaged in any proper activity. The rest simply sit and wait their turn.

The excruciating tedium of ‘fielding’ – standing about, like a man in a queue with nothing to read, in case a sequence of repetitive events, ponderously unfolding in front of you, should suddenly require your direct intervention … (page 179)

Football is a game. Tiddly-winks is a game. A sack race involves energy and fun. Cricket is like a cucumber sandwich: indulged in for reasons of tradition, despite being totally eclipsed by every other alternative on offer. (page 181)

I can well imagine that fielding would be much more pleasurable if one could read at the same time. One of my fond memories of childhood is going with my parents to watch cricket, but then I did used to lie in the grass making daisy chains.

I’d like to finish reading Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig this evening, if I have time before I fall asleep. I have very mixed ideas about it right now, varying from liking it to wishing I’d never bothered to pick it up. It’s a tough read – from a subject point of view, that is. This is by no means a ‘comfy’ read, more of a rollercoaster to batter and bruise. But I must finish it before writing about it properly.

Coming up next week I’m looking forward to reading one of these books:

At the moment it’s King Arthur’s Bones that is calling out to me. It’s five interlinked mysteries from Michael Jecks, Susanna Gregory, Bernard Knight, Ian Morson and Philip Gooden.

Sunday Salon – Today’s Reading

Today I’ve been reading Semi-Detached by Griff Rhys Jones (a book I borrowed from the library). This is his memoir of his childhood and adolescence and I’m enjoying reading it. I had a look at what people have written about it on Amazon and found it has some very disparaging comments. I completely disagree – this is not boring or dull, and not at all a ‘celebrity’ memoir. I’ll leave writing about it until I’ve finished it, apart from this little bit about swimming and diving in his local swimming pool. I can identify so much with his account of the diving boards. The diving boards were made up of a lower board and a high dive. And it was scary on the high board. It was best to jump off it first before attempting a dive. Griff describes the experience of his first jump, that ‘sinking, sick-making descent’:

I must have stood there taking counsel and advice for ten minutes before I finally went off for the first time, in a sudden fit of bravado: still talking, without anybody having the chance to advise me, I stepped straight off the edge and fell … arrgh: my internal organs apparently losing their adhesion to my lower abdomen.

I bobbed up quickly and swam frantically, over-energised, to the side and went straight back up. (page 80)

That was me too! I loved it, but how times have changed. My last experience in a swimming pool last year at Center Parcs in Nottingham was terrifying when I went down the flume. It was a rapid descent and I was pushed along by people behind me, ending up underwater, certain that I was going to be drowned and hating the whole thing.

My other reading this morning was The Widow’s Tale by Mick Jackson, a book I received from the publishers via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers’ Program. This a gentle account of a newly-widowed woman who is coming to terms with her husband’s death after 40 years of marriage. It’s about her thoughts and feelings as she flees  from her London home to rent a cottage in a small Norfolk village.  I have my doubts about the narrator’s voice – at times it comes across as male rather than female, but I’m waiting until I’ve finished it to pass judgement.

Griff Rhys Jones – “Rivers”

I’ve been watching Griff’s TV series Rivers, so I was thrilled to read on the Mostly Books blog that he was giving a talk in Abingdon. Of course, by the time I read about it all the tickets were sold out, but I had a phone call yesterday morning – some tickets had been returned and did I still want to go!

griff1My thanks go to the person who returned the tickets – it was a great evening. Griff was up and running as soon as he was on stage – entertaining, funny and oh, so knowledgeable. So many facts spilled out of him with boundless enthusiasm and all without any notes. Griff explained how he came to do the TV series and how the producers like him to be “in jeopardy” – if you’ve seen any of his TV programmes, you’ll know what he means, from dangling on a cradle whilst cleaning windows of a New York skyscraper (his hairiest moment) to swimming the River Mersey, in danger of getting Weil’s disease when he fell straight in the sewage going underground with the team maintaining Manchester’s waterways, and kayaking in a canoe slalom on the River Derwent.

Griff is passionate about rivers and opening them up for people to use. He wanted to make a series about the landscape and how it is used – the waterways of Britain are the ancient transport routes only superceded by road and rail relatively recently. The rivers are there to be used, navigation rights that have been extinguished should be reinstated so that we can all use them. He also wanted it to be about the history of rivers – telling how the monks were the first people to use the rivers, creating the water meadows to irrigate the land, how people settled near rivers, how the towns grew up, how they were above all working rivers, and how we have lost our ancient connection with rivers.

griff21I bought his book – Rivers: a Voyage into the Heart of Britain, which he explained is not just about the TV series but is full of stories. I  joined the long queue waiting for him to sign it. I was almost the last person in the queue, but he was still cheerfully smiling and signing! I asked him how long it had taken him to write the book. He paused and screwed his eyes up whilst he thought back, “Well I started it in November … and had to have it finished by … February”, he said. “And then it was edited down, it was much longer than it is now.”

Well, that wasn’t very long to write such a detailed, hefty book, which looks  fascinating, complete with line drawings, maps and colour illustrations. I’ve only dipped into it so far, but here is an extract conveying the beauty of our rivers:

Down beyond Sudbury the River Stour closes in. It slinks through a perfect English landscape: Essex to the south, the much more mythically rural Suffolk to the north. “Suffolk” sounds eggy, buccolic, lost and lazy. Essex is equally as good, just not so equally named. I glimpsed wool merchants’ ochre or pink half-timbered hall houses. I slid into great mill ponds. There were plenty of startling grand churches, some paid for out of the profits of the local weaving industry, some like Stoke-by-Nayland, by rich medieval aristocrats. But mostly, despite the hard-won navigation rights, I was alone, hemmed in by tall banks of reeds, picking my way through over-hanging willows, negotiating passage rights with arrogant swans.

Frequently a stretch would open out with bullrushes standing up on either side, below whispering aspens. The way was clogged with waterlilies in full bloom: buttercup-coloured buds the size of small fists, and open petals like dishes, lying on flat floating leaves. The water itself was clear and waving with green cabbage-like undergrowth that ceaselessly, yearningly, writhed in the current. I could see right down to a river bottom reflecting sunlight off mother-of-pearl freshwater mussel shells. (page 277-8)

As well as meeting Griff I also met Annabel from Gaskella, who was on the stall selling books – she has the good fortune of having Mostly Books as her local bookshop. She’s also written about the event – see here.