on 13 April 2010
Reading Gervase Phinn's latest book, his memoirs of life up to leaving home to go to college, makes me ALMOST wish I was brought in Rotherham in the 50's. And went to South Grove Secondary Modern School for Boys. Gervase has described the teachers at the school with warmth and detail, and also the teachers at his infant and junior schools. In fact there are a wealth of fascinating characters in the memoirs, not least of which are his family - parents, siblings, wife and children. I love the sound of his brothers and sister, and his parents who switch off the telly at the first sign of kissing.
Then there is life growing up in the fifties, playing up at the local farm, on the building site, in the street. It's a wonderful evocation of the era, and it's a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I tried to make it last and last, but unfortunately too soon it finishes with Gervase passing A levels and setting off to Teaching College, after narrowly avoiding becoming an accountant.
His wonderful descriptions, rich language, fabulous cast of characters and laugh-out-loud anecdotes have left me wanting more.Hopefully there will be a sequel, describing college life and his teaching jobs.
on 30 June 2010
I love Gervase Phinn's books. His writing is gentle, family-friendly, with a sharp observational humour that gives his words a wry wit. As a consequence, I was thrilled to see that Phinn had written a new book dealing with his own life while growing up in Yorkshire.
My view of this book is extremely positive, in the main. In fact, the main factor of 'Road to the Dales' I didn't enjoy was the structure. Phinn's commentary darts all over the place, which does give the novel a gossipy feel (this might have been the aim, to be fair!) but doesn't help the reader really get too much of a grasp on what Phinn will be chatting about next. It is far from linear, and, in the first part, deals more with Phinn's family than on his own story.
I did also recognise a few anecdotes from Phinn's novels about being a school inspector in Yorkshire. It strikes me that most people who would read this book would have read his prior novels, and so it seemed a little short-sighted to duplicate material. Happily it was very infrequent.
These minor issues aside, 'Road to the Dales' is a wonderful book. The stories of Phinn's early life and his progress through school, the holidays he takes, the games he plays on the street outside his house - all are related with warmth and a huge affection for the places and people that informed Phinn.
Having a father of a similar age as Phinn lent extra poignancy to my read, since I've heard my dad speak of many of the same sweets, food, games, experiences from when he was growing up.
The part of the novel that I enjoyed the best was the way Phinn spoke about his teachers and the learning that led him to pursuing the role that we see him taking on in his books about being a school inspector. I also had good-humoured, passionate and experienced teachers while going through primary and secondary school - who definitely helped to instill in me a love of books and learning - and appreciate Phinn's eulogising on how important a factor it is in a young person's life. Quotes like the following fill the pages: "Like all great teachers he did not stick slavishly to a script but would deviate and tell stories to arouse our interest. What I learnt from Ken Pike was the importance of young people having high expectations and self-belief."
I also loved the humour - something that I'd already encountered in his books about being a school inspector. Little anecdotes such as the following are delightful:
"One trainee nurse, a permanently cheerful Jamaican woman with a beaming smile and sunny disposition, was assisting the anaesthetist in another operation.
'Arm board,' he said, meaning the device on which the patient's arm rests prior to the administering of the anaesthetic. The nurse nodded and smiled but made no move.
'I said arm board, nurse,' repeated the anaesthetist sharply.
'Ah'm bored too, doctor,' she replied pleasantly, 'but we'll soon be going home.'"
As a final point, I do 'Road to the Dales' is an effective study of life in the 50s and 60s in northern England. Health and safety were unheard of, and life would have been unrecognisable to many of us brought up in a time where political correctness and safety for children are constantly spoken about: "Parents didn't worry about where you were, who you were with, what you were doing, and never imagined that predatory paedophiles were lurking around every corner and hiding behind every bush. It wasn't as if they didn't care about us [...] Amazingly, in all those early years, apart from a few scrapes and scratches, I never hurt myself and was never approached by the stereotypical 'dirty old man in a raincoat'."
Gervase Phinn admits candidly that, if you are looking for a memoir of a childhood filled with misery and difficult situations, then you need to go elsewhere. Phinn writes with love about his wonderful childhood, his family and his experiences. He recognises that he was blessed compared to others, and that humble joy is very evident. I greatly enjoyed this diverting novel and would recommend it to those who have enjoyed Phinn's prior work and those who enjoy real life memoirs.
Gervase Phinn's (GP) "Dales" series is well know, liked and loved for its tales of a Yorkshire school inspector with various characters and no doubt poetic licence to make them enjoyable reads. However in Road to the Dales GP is taking us to the beginning; the beginning of his life with a family history, social history of growing up in the fifties, a record of schooling, and a reflection on what influences a growing lad, basically an average lad's life.
There are tales, some long, some short, and some no doubt with Yorkshire poetic licence from not just GP but also his family. All just ordinary folk with a tale to tell. The beauty is GP has captured it all within his book....
"... every one of us has a story to tell. They might not be massively exciting stories, dramatic, full of incident and intrigue, but nevertheless they give fascinating insights into the lives of ordinary people and should be preserved. Sadly many are not...."
GP's love of reading is throughout the book and the influence his parents and subsequently his teachers had on his reading is apparent. He looks back with kind regard at how certain individual teachers stood out for him and made his education richer. There are obviously the teachers that made no help whatsoever; but GP admits you learn something from them. In his case put into practice once he began his teaching career.
Written with the same Yorkshire humour as his "Dales" series, you will get more of the same here. There are a few anecdotes which appear again here, but so few that you do not heel this book is simply a rehash of previous ones.
There is no structure to this book and this is not a criticism but an observation. There is a time line kept to but GP deviates from structured path in telling his story as stories come to him and trigger other memories but also observation on what life is like today as well. Much like life really.
As an enthusiast of reading and books myself GP talks of his childhood reading, his discoveries of books, his sheer delight in having kept childhood books for more than 40 years, and shows the reader that it is okay to be "ordinary", "average", "middle of the class" and still have great passion in academia and in reading. A lot of people will be able to associate with this I am sure. And just to check with you all; do you turn the page of a book correctly? Bet you did not know there was a right or wrong way? Avid readers evidently just know!
Another theme I could relate to throughout the book was religion and not something I would normally pick up on. I was in a position like GP going to a school that was not of my religion, in my case a RC school instead of CoE and understand the intrigue and differences that it can make to you as a child when certain things are excluded from you or not talked about.
Better than his "Dales" series but actually it was for me time for Gervase Phinn to move on with his literary output. An excellent book with so much to give to the reader. A gift from Gervase Phinn to all.
on 6 November 2011
I found this book by accident, having been a fan of his Dales books for some time. It is a book that starts at the beginning of his family life and ends with his struggle for success at school, leading to his being a teacher and ultimately a Schools Inspector, collecting many well-deserved educational accolades and awards throughout his career. I couldn't put it down, mainly because during the time I was reading earlier books about his life, the children and teachers he meets as an Inspector, I had wanted to know how he got there. Hence my suggestion that this is a book that is back to front as it post-dates the Dales books.
Nevertheless, this eventually proved to be the appeal of the book. There was already an idea of the character of the man through his Dales books. I saw him as a calming influence amongst his colleagues, an inspirational, empathetic and understanding visitor to the children in the schools he was inspecting and a sharp observer of teachers. He could almost have included pictures on the page such were his beautifully observed descriptions of the ferocious Mrs. Savage and the slightly mad, but well-intentioned Connie.
So for me, this book squared the circle. An added benefit, however, was that he spent all his early years in South Yorkshire and this gave it meaning for me and a sense of place - as so was I...
on 17 August 2015
I got given this as a present last year. This is a very good autobiography, and takes you right through his childhood in Richard Road in Rotherham.
As my mother comes from Wickersley, and I live in Sheffield, I know the area anyway. We read about his family relationships, his father's anger at the young Gervase not getting friendly with a disabled boy, Gervase's brother Alec, the shopping trips, and most of all the willingness of the neighbours to help out (not so much these days, unfortunately). When the young Gervase asked his father what it was the Barber "was offering him for the weekend", his father gets quite annoyed and elusive.
Through all that, Gervase's love of writing, and memories of his childhood and family shine through. This is the only Autobiography Gervase has ever written. Don't confuse that with any of his other books!
on 22 January 2014
I enjoyed the book, but I prefer the Author to narrate his stories. He can make the stories come more alive then, than in the written word, in my opinion. However, he has terrific insight on what goes on in the mind of his characters which is a great joy to the reader,
on 1 September 2010
This was my holiday reading book and as with all Mr Phinn's books it was a long awaited read. As always I wanted this book to go on forever! It was also like reading about my own life and it brought smiles, tears and evoked wonderful memories. It is certainly a book I have recommended to everyone. Keep on writing more please Gervaise Phinn.
on 8 July 2015
I bought this for a friend - a Yorkshire Lad! I have read it and love it, and I know he will too. There are many laugh out loud stories, but also sadness and poignancy. As a teacher and then a schools inspector, he was first and foremost an encourager. Gervase Phinn's writing should be required reading for everyone in education.
on 15 April 2011
It's wonderful to wallow in the past whilst laughing all the time! Mr Phinn never disappoints with his easy style, his sense of fun and ability to engage his reader.
on 11 June 2010
A marvellously funny book to add to my Gervais Phinn collection. The James Herriot of schools!