on 22 January 2005
This is a wonderfully written book. The plot moves at the leisurely pace one imagines of the horse-drawn tram that features at its centre. The characters both human and animal are well drawn and invite sympathy and interest. This is a warm tale of understated heroism, perseverence and courage. It reminds the reader of what decency can achieve.
(Edited Dec 2006) - I have just re-read this book, and I would still give it five stars. The links between the humans and their animals is striking. This is a wonderful tale of how two boys from indifferent beginnings, made themselves heroes just by being honest and open to the world around them.
on 20 February 2007
The year was 1937 and Hitler had just walked into Austria. It was also a marvellous year for clouded yellow butterflies.
Duncan and Wilfred live in a large old house in Sussex, only ever see their parents on Wednesdays for lunch, and spend the days catching butterflies and dreaming of adventure. Then their mother elopes and their already distant father takes up with other ladies. Deciding that enough is enough, the brothers run away from home. They already have a plan -- to go to London and buy a tram they have seen in an advertisement. It costs two pounds.
And so as the Second World War hits England, Duncan and Wilfred, along with their tram, embark on an adventure of a lifetime -- from scrapes with the law in Canterbury, to an encounter with a German war plane in Worthing, and even a magical meeting with the King and Queen of England.
Utterly droll and captivating, The Two Pound Tram is a bitter-sweet testament to youth, its dreams, and its triumphs over adversity.
The life of the author William Newton, the pen-name of Harley Street doctor Kenneth Newton, 1927-2010, would make a fascinating novel in its own right and his obituary is certainly worth reading.
This short whimsical book was written during his retirement and published in 2003. It is the literary equivalent of a naïve painting where the vitality and overall impression in the crafting overcomes limitations of dialogue, description, plot and authenticity. If, however, the reader suspends belief on almost every page then there is a freshness and innocence that is very refreshing.
The book is set in the years leading up to, and during WWII. The narrator, Wilfred Scrutton, and his elder brother, Duncan, live in a big house with their remote parents and the female staff. The boys are left on their own for long periods, collecting butterflies and stealing chickens; Duncan hunts small animals with his catapult and Wilfred cooks them, and so an inseparable closeness develops that survives Duncan’s severe illness and resulting dumbness.
Following their mother’s departure from the home, their relations with their father deteriorate and they decide to leave home taking their limited savings with them, spurred on by an advertisement selling old London trams for just £2. Their journey results in the purchase of a horse-drawn tram and an old horse along with whom comes a friendly mongrel.
The boys renovate the tram and carry passengers to and from Canterbury until they come to the attention of the police but are acquitted when a KC, related to one of their regular passengers, points out that horse-drawn trams do not come under the terms of the charge. They reluctantly move on to Worthing, having picked up a part-Romany girl, Hatty, who joins them in establishing a new route along the sea front. On the way they meet a rich Austrian, Mr Schwayder, straight out of central casting, who happens to be an avid butterfly collector. This mutual interest results in his buying an old electric tram and helping the youngsters to comply with all the necessary legal and council requirements.
The coming of war is graphically described and the three end up working for the navy by moving the tram to the head of the pier and converting it to a signaling station for off-shore boats. They do this so well that their exploits come to the attention of the locals and, when Duncan downs a Stuka with his catapult [it is that kind of book], to that of the national press and the Royal Family.
There are traces of Enid Blyton and Richmal Compton in this story that eventually ends up describing what happened to the characters and especially the narrator. Wilfred ends up as an eminent doctor so one suspects that there are elements of autobiography in the story. Some of the characters are real – Dr Archie McIndoe, the plastic surgeon who recommends Wilfred for medical school, and Mr Parker, owner of a Worthing department store who was later instrumental in developing the Parker- Knoll armchair.
For a reader in his 70s, there were many references that took me back to my childhood days. Newton’s inexperience shows in the two dimensional nature of his characters and the absence of any emotional or psychological underpinning of their adventures. Having introduced Hatty into the story he really has no idea what to do with her until the very end. This was certainly an era of naivety, but even so some exploration of the darker episodes would have offered a contrast to the lighter moments.
However, the normal critical process is suspended in the face of an octogenarian imagining the life of Wilfred who, in turn must imagine the thoughts and life of his non-speaking brother. At the very end the older Wilfred describes two episodes when he returns to the locations described in the boys’ story. The results are not hard to imagine but are rather delicately described.
This book could be read by readers of all ages but the details of trams, preparations for the war and the consequent aerial and sea activities would probably be appreciated best by those who can remember them.
on 24 September 2006
The perfect book to read on a Sunday afternoon. I could not stop until I had finished it. The story moved at a great pace and worked on many levels. Some events taken in isolation might seem far fetched, however in the context of the story they were perfectly believable and often left me feeling that i had learnt something new. This is the best form of fiction, a good story that could be read by anyone of any age! I eagerly await the next book from Mr Newton. Thank you.
on 4 March 2004
I read this in a day and night after receiving it as a Christmas gift and felt rather sad when I had finished. It trasnported me back to kinder times when values were important, the pace of life was slower and violence was more or less unheard of.
Nevertheless, it lifted me too. After all, as they say, they can't take the memories away.
on 1 April 2016
The story of two brothers as it unfolds keep you rivited to the pages not knowing what to expect, but in a rather pleasant manner. Underneath, the two brothers exhibit an adventurous and fearless character for such youngsters that is reminiscent of the stoic temperament of the integrated adult. Their life events were a mixed blessing of mischievious fortune and ill-fated sad episodes, and overall a real light-hearted but fulfilling read. Truly enjoyable. I feel that the story seems to run parallel to some events in the author's own life experience. Well written.
on 3 March 2012
A friend bought me this book one Christmas. It took me over 7 years to start reading it because it looked boring. Well I have read it... and it was boring.
It's just plain weird - two strange kids who leave home (and nobody seemed to mind)- and buy a tram and then ponce about with it for a while. One of them loses his ability to speak - why introduce that little oddity into the mix?
And suddenly one of them becomes a doctor - and the next thing we know he's a professor and then he's something equally amazing in the medical world. Oh - were life that easy.
It was plainly unbelievable and even surreal. I didn't at all enjoy and was looking forward to it ending.....thank goodness it did.
Both kids seemed to lack a personality and even appeared robot like - two kids suffering with a mild form of autism.
I am baffled by what the author was trying to convey. The only good thing about this book, I suppose, was that it did give a sense of innocence and goodness - which is something. But in the main it was certainly an oddity.
Weird - odd - strange book.