Thursday 18 January 2024

A Year's Reading

Last year, for the first time ever, I kept a list of all my reading. It turns out that I read the nice round number of 52 books, which suggests that I read one a week, though I'm a much more irregular than that. In August I read 7, while in December I only managed one. 20 of the books were fictional, either novels or collections of short stories, while the rest were biography, memoirs and factual books. It's this latter group that I'm concentrating on here.

"The Man Who Climbs Trees" by James Aldred
If you ever find yourself needing to get an elderly man to the top of a very high tree then James Aldred is your man. If the gentleman happens to be Sir David Attenborough you'd better get him safely back down again too. Aldred makes a living by climbing trees, taking photos and working on wildlife films. This book will take you on adventures to Borneo, Congo, Peru, Australia, Gabon, Papua, Venezuela, Morocco and even little old England. It opens up the world of the forest canopy which is otherwise hidden from us, without us having to be stung by bees, chased by elephants or brave these vertiginous heights. If you want a slightly quieter read closer to home, I can also recommend his book "Goshawk Summer" where he attempts to film these enigmatic birds of prey during the Covid pandemic.

"Soundings - Journeying North In The Company Of Whales" by Doreen Cunningham
I nearly included this among the novels I read in 2023; it reads very like one, for she exhibits not only her breadth of knowledge but also depth of feeling. As a young single-mum living in a hostel she decides that she and her little boy, Max, with embark on a journey to see the Grey Whales which migrate along the west coast of N America. She does have some experience of whales and the peoples of the far north, but that's now all in the past as young dreams are overtaken by harsh realities. I can't recommend this book highly enough if you'd like to learn about whales, climate change, the changing lives of the indigenous peoples of the north while at the same time being gripped by this brave woman's quest.

"An Economic History Of The English Garden" by Roderick Floud
A rather dry sounding title for a fascinating book. Most of us, when wandering around England's great gardens will ask the same question "How many gardeners does it take to look after all this?" Floud goes on to ask many more: "How much did this all cost at modern day prices?", "How much money did Capability Brown actually make?" "Where did all the money for these gardens come from?", "What was the point of it all?" "Did this have any effect of the economy of the country?" "Just how much did it cost to produce a single pineapple when they first learned to grow them here?" - at modern day prices? £569 for one pineapple!

"Finding Hildasay" by Christian Lewis
Ex-paratrooper Chris Lewis finds himself slipping into the kind of depression and hopelessness which so often afflicts former servicemen once they leave the armed forces. On a whim he decides that he'll walk around the coastline of the UK - including all the islands. He sets off with little equipment, hardly any money and only the vaguest plan. He returns years later with a dog, a fiancĂ©e, and a child. Along the way he also raise £500,000 for an ex-servicemen's charity. 

"The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England" by Ian Mortimer
Ah, if only school history lessons had been like this! The "time traveller" bit is just a device to put you firmly in those distant days and describe what you might have encountered. It doesn't flinch from some of the more unsavoury sights and smells - a sort of "Horrible Histories" for grown-ups! It tells you about living conditions, food and drink, the laws of the land....everything in fact that those dreadful stories of kings and queens fail to mention

"A Wood Of One's Own" by Ruth Pavey
I always enjoy a quiet poke about in small woods, finding out what's there, figuring out the wood's history, and, often as not, finding unexpected peace and tranquility. Reading this unassuming little book is a similar experience. Ruth Pavey, a teacher in London, has a sudden desire to own some land in Somerset. Having found a suitable plot, she goes to the auction, gets outbid, and buys a piece of land that nobody else wants. How she goes about transforming this unpromising scrap of real estate into something useful to her forms the basis of this quiet little tale.

"Madhouse At The End Of The Earth" by Julian Sancton
Great achievements are sometimes said to be the result of standing on the shoulders of giants, however in some cases it would be truer to say that goals have been reached by standing on the shoulders of madmen, cranks and failures. Those who triumph are celebrated by history; those who fall short are forgotten. This is the story of Belgium's attempt at Antarctic exploration which foundered in frozen seas and the long, dark polar winter. Many of those involved left diaries of their disastrous misadventure and from these Julian Sancton has reconstructed their gripping tale. But among the madmen cranks and failures is a discredited dreamer who saw a possible way to succeed and also a highly-motivated young man who later drew on these ideas and became a household name.

"The Lost Rainforests Of Britain" Guy Shrubsole
They are not all in the tropics, you know. There are also temperate rainforests and Britain has some tiny fragments of them, scattered along our western shores. Guy Shrubsole sets out to visit as many as he can, which involves some difficult journeys, some negotiation and more than a little trespassing. Along the way he learns a great deal about these (almost) lost rainforests and conjectures just how much can be restored and how much is gone forever.

Some of you will have noticed that I haven't posted for a while and some may remember a long hiatus back in the second half 2022. I think it's time I explained what's going on. 

Back in August 2022 I started to get pains in my back and hip; having spent most of my life doing very physical work I didn't pay it much attention. Eventually, at the beginning of October, I was admitted to hospital, had all kinds of blood tests, scans and courses of medication, though it didn't take long till they told me  that I had prostate cancer, not only that but it had spread to other parts of my body and was incurable.

I had hormone treatment and, alongside regular medication, was put on a new drug that was being trialed. After a few days I felt good as new and Les and I were able to recommence taking regular walks. My brother has been a tower of strength throughout, taking me to my endless appointments and keeping a grumpy old man positive.

Just before Christmas my blood tests revealed that my cancer had found a way around the medications and was starting to have a party in my bones. Pain started soon after. There are still further courses of action - radiotherapy, chemotherapy and another new drug. I wait to see how this all goes.

If I find things to blog about I'll be back here pronto!

Take care.