In Search of England – H.V. Morton (1936)


In a conversation with my lovely mum the other month, we were talking about books (I know – shocker!), and she happened to mention that one of her favorite travel books when she was growing up was “In Search of England” by H.V. Morton.

So – with my mum coming out to the U.S. for a visit in a couple of weeks and with the intention of passing this edition on to her, I pulled this title off the shelf to have a look at. (As an aside, this particular book was also published in the year that my mum was born, which is a nice overlap, I think.) Anyway, I’m always up for some armchair traveling…

This volume is one of several in Morton’s sweetly old-fashioned “In Search…” series, and it’s a narrative that was written as Morton takes a leisurely drive around England in the 1930s.

Published in 1936, it’s been twenty years since the scars of the Great War were cut, and England has mostly recovered from the trauma that the war engraved on the national psyche. Another war seems to be out of sight, and it’s really a much more innocent England than it is now. Few realize that World War II is really just around the corner, and so life seems to be pretty cheery for the most part. (It’s only in looking back that you realize that the spectre of the second war was on the horizon…)

Morton takes a circuitous driving route starting out from just below Scotland, going south down the left-hand side (touching Wales and the West Country), swings across the bottom, and then loops up on the right-hand side of the country to return almost to where he started from.

It’s a gentle journey, and as Morton travels, the reader gets to meet some of the people and some of the places that he stops at. It’s a very charming book, and was a perfect read for me after the latest frazzling national news. It definitely calmed the nerves.

If you’d like a really lovely read of an England in the 1930’s, then I think that you would not go wrong with this enjoyable journey with Morton. It’s a product of its time, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I bet you will too.

ETA (Sept. 2019): Just found and bought In Search of London (1951) by Morton. Now I just have to read it. HAHAHA.

ETA: Just realized that I hadn’t linked my post about another author’s take on the Morton travel book. This guy, Joe Bennett tries to recreate Morton’s car journey… (The book is a bit moany though.)

Swabbing the Decks…


It’s been a while since I’ve had the need to do a “swabbing the decks” kind of post, but it’s come around again. This type of post is just for me to catch up with some of the titles that I’ve been, the titles that perhaps don’t really warrant an individual post of their own. It doesn’t mean that these particular titles are not good. Au contraire. Most of the time, it’s because the books haven’t triggered any great thoughts or debate for me, but they are still good all the same.

I’ve just finished two quick but enjoyable reads of a couple of the Miss Read books, Friends of Thrush Green (1987) and The School at Thrush Green (1991). I do enjoy these rather mellow narratives where the most vexing thing is usually that the tea was luke-warm and perhaps a newcomer arrives in the village.

They’re just enjoyable chillaxing kinda books and ideal for very hot days (as we have been having) where you’re taken over by lassitude and end-of-the-semester fatigue and don’t really want to think that hard. I don’t know if I could plough through all the Miss Read novels one after the other, but as a refresher between books, they work a treat.

TV-wise, we’re finishing up the latest season of “Better Call Saul”, the spin-off of “Breaking Bad”, which we have loved. It’s probably going to lead to us re-watching the “Breaking Bad” series now that we have learned this prior (and parallel) storyline. So good…

The big thing is what to read next? The eternal question for any reader….

The World According to Mister Rogers – Fred Rogers (2003)

rogers_bookThere was a recent confluence of Mister Rogers in life the other day when I happened to pick up a small book of his sayings and also watch a PBS special on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood around the same time. I didn’t grow up with Mister Rogers (although I would have liked to), and didn’t come to him until I was in college, but regardless of how you are/were when you first met him, Mister Rogers was an American hero in many ways.

For those who didn’t grow up in America (or perhaps have access to American-based TV programs), Mister Rogers was a gentle cardigan-wearing children’s television host who was instrumental in changing how TV reached the younger elementary and preschool set to teach them about the world about us. He originally started working for NBC in 1951, but quit when he decided that all the ads on children’s TV programs undermined any educational message that the programs may have had, saying (according to Wiki): “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought that there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.”

mister_rogers_feature_2_1050x700Mister Rogers began working at WQED, Pittsburgh’s public television station, and developed puppets and music used in his programming, and when he wasn’t working full-time at the TV station, Rogers was studying theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He wasn’t interested in preaching, so upon his ordination, he was charged with continuing his work with children’s television.

Despite the religious background, Mister Rogers only used such biblical nuggets as the Golden Rule (e.g. treat others as you would like to be treated), be kind and other gentle important life lessons, and his programs turned into such an institution for the American kids in the 1960’s onwards through the turn of the century, that he (and his red cardigan) became famous, even getting parodied by Saturday Night Live with Eddie Murphy doing “Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood”. In fact, one of Mister Roger’s cardigans is on display at the Smithsonian Museum of America History in DC. 🙂

So, this little book just captures part of Mister Rogers’ philosophy about life and being a good human, aimed at children, yes, but with a lot of relevance for people who are now adults. One of my own particular favorites of his is the following which particularly resonated after the 9/11 bombing:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

For more about the role that Mister Rogers has played in American life, try this Atlantic article. Just remember: “You are special, and so is your neighbor.”

Image result for eddie murphy mister robinson


The President’s Hat – Antoine Laurain (2012)


“He placed one hand on his hat to keep it from flying off. The harder he held it down, the freer his mind seemed to be. It was as though he had traveled back in time, back to adolescence, when life stretches out before you and everything is still possible.”

With little idea of what to expect, I picked this one up the other day from the TBR pile. It was a gift from my mum who had liked it enough to mail it to me from England. However, as my mum and I have very similar reading tastes I wasn’t worried about whether the read would be good — I just didn’t know anything about the book. It was great, btw.

President Francois Mitterand, former leader of France.

President Francois Mitterand, former leader of France.

The President’s Hat is really more a fable than anything, a fable about taking on your own life and making it different. The basic narrative arc is that someone finds the real President Francois Mitterand*’s hat in a restaurant one day, and on a whim, keeps it and wears it. This someone’s life wasn’t that great before and he’d been wanting to change some things but hadn’t yet gathered up the confidence to do that. With Mitterand’s hat on his head, it seems to confer special powers of confidence and assertiveness and this someone’s life completely changes for the better. Does the hat really have this power?

And the tale of the special hat continues, jumping from one character to the next, all of whom overlap in some way via their lives, perhaps through public transportation, perhaps through a park bench all in one big loop.

It was really fascinating to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I whizzed through it and had a hard time putting it down.

It’s also set in France in the 1980’s, but please don’t worry if you know absolutely nothing about this politics, time or country, or don’t speak French. You don’t need to know anything about this as the story is written so you can easily get what’s going in from context.

If you’re looking for a gentle, happy and charming book with a good strong story and likeable characters AND a good ending all in one, then you may want to run and get a copy of this. I loved it.

Thanks, Mum.

Pharrellhat_12000dollars_autionYou know another thing which makes me happy: This song from Pharrell.  And if you really admire him, you could have bought his hat in auction recently for $12,000. (All proceeds went to charity. Reason #100 to like Pharrell.)

  • President Francois Mitterand was France’s 21st President and served from 1981 to 1995. He was a leader of the Socialist Party and was the first person elected from the left for ages.

NOTE: I was lucky enough to receive an email from M. Laurain (the author here) just now (like one minute ago) and he wrote the following in his letter:

Bonjour –

Sometimes I have a look on the net…not very often but sometimes… I just want to thank you for the comment you wrote on your blog about my book. Your mum and yourself are very good readers.

Please send her my best regards.

All the best,

Bien a vous,

Antoine Laurain from Paris – FRANCE.

Pretty cool, n’est ce pas?