Bye-bye Beryl

Sadly, veteran English novelist Dame Beryl Bainbridge died last week aged 75. Author of 18 critically acclaimed novels, Beryl was the perennial Booker Prize bridesmaid, short-listed five times without once winning. She had greater success with the Whitbread prize, winning twice with her novels Injury time and Every man for himself. She also won the James Tait Memorial Prize for Fiction with Master Georgie, her portrait of an enigmatic Victorian doctor set against the Crimean war.

An ardent smoker and drinker, Beryl’s novels are characterised by her lean prose and dark humour. This pithy and often controversial turn of phrase was also used to great effect in her journalism and her unexpected, eccentric remarks provided a rich comedic vein for her friend Alice Thomas Ellis who often featured Beryl in her Spectator column.

Formerly an actress (she appeared in Coronation Street as Ken Barlow’s militant “ban the bomb” girlfriend), she used her experiences in provincial theatre as a backdrop for An awfully big adventure, later filmed with Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman.

Beryl was finishing off her nineteenth novel The girl in the polka dot dress when she died, it will be published next year.

Come Fly With Me

Many long haul flights have left me with two obsessions: my pursuit of the Perfect Travel Outfit followed closely by my search for the Best Ever Plane Read. I’m about to fly a long, long way in a couple of weeks and I am hoping I will be in line for some good plane read suggestions as a result of this blog.

Never one to keep things simple however, I have over time, created a set of draconian requirements with regard to my plane reads. First up, the book must be bought at an airport outlet – buying at Scorpio’s before I leave is cheating. No mention whatsoever must be made of plane crashes or even plane adventures. And the writing must grab me from the first sentence – this is a book that is going to have to compete with fidgeting fellow passengers, pilot announcements, in-flight entertainment systems and regular small trays of fiddly food.

Even with all those restrictions, there have been memorable successes and at least one dire failure. I count India Knight’s My Life on a Plate as a resounding success – any book that can make you laugh when you are in emigration flight from one country to the next must be good.

Nigel Marsh’s Fat Forty and Fired cheered me up at  Adelaide Airport at 2am after numerous flight delays and the news that I myself had just been made redundant. Deborah Moggach with These Foolish Things gets several gold stars after keeping me well entertained on a flight from Cape Town to Heathrow. On the other hand The Shack by William P. Young made me want to fling myself, screaming, out of the plane in mid-flight from Sydney to Johannesburg and is high on my list of Worst Books I Have Ever Read.

I picked up my most recent successful travel read at Bangkok Railway Station and started to read The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill on the long, freezing cold, air-conditioned , underfed but scenically stunning train trip to Chiang Mai. I love all things Thai and almost every part of that holiday last year was perfect. But one day I woke up and over yet another strange Thai breakfast, I finally cracked and said to Greg: “If I do not get to eat real bread sometime to-day,  I fear I may start behaving badly”.

So he went cycling and I followed Sarah Coursey of Papanui’s directions to The Blue Diamond Cafe. Full to the brim with aging and soon to be aging hippies, the Blue Diamond Cafe bakes its own bread, washes its salads in bottled water and smells of real coffee and wafty sandalwood incense. My internal organs gave a little cheer when I spied barrels of bread rolls that screamed out Wholewheat, Organic and Heavy. In this lovely environment, I settled down for a feed and a read.

And it was only then that I realised that Colin Cotterill actually lives in Chiang Mai. I allowed myself a moment’s optimistic fantasy that he would see me and come across to sign his book. Regrettably that did not happen, but it is a cracker of a little read and I don’t know why he isn’t at least as popular as Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Ramotse in Botswana. In fact Ramotse and Dr Siri should get together and make us all happy.

Very soon I will be standing outside a newsagent at Sydney airport, gearing myself up to enter and choose the perfect long haul read. Think of this as the holiday equivalent of  the Posh Report versus Claims Returned. Which will it be? Only you can help.