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Famously the sun never set on the British Empire. Some wag said this is because God couldn't trust an Englishman in the dark. Alas, for reasons I will not go into here, Britain gave up its Empire in the early 20th. century and has declined as a world power. Nevertheless, British dependencies and overseas territories still exist, dotted around the globe. In 'The Last Pink Bits', Harry Ritchie recounts his visits to some of them. This is an interesting travelogue in which we learn about places - such as Ascension Island - not widely known about or understood, as well as places that are more familiar to the popular imagination such as the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 June 2002
The trademark adage of the Victorian era proudly (and accurately) declared that the sun never set on the British Empire. Turn of the century maps designated British territory by using the color pink, and pink bits could indeed be found littered across the globe. However, given Britain's imperial decline and notable retreats from former prize possessions such as India and Hong Kong, at the start of the new millennium the adage is regarded (wistfully by some) as yet another testament to faded grandeur. It may strike readers as shocking therefore, to discover as Ritchie did, that Britain still has some sixteen dependencies, and that... wait for it... the sun still doesn't set on the British empire!
Intrigued by a list of these last remaining "pink bits", Ritchie sets out in this slim and compelling travelogue to asses the status of the empire by visiting a selection of them. Restricting himself to only inhabited territories, striking Pitcairn Island as being too inaccessible, and limiting himself to only one of the Caribbean territories, he sets out on a grand tour of Bermuda, Ascension Island, The Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, The Turks and Caicos Islands, Tristan da Cunha, and St. Helena. Each of the chapters contains a chatty pocket history of the territory along with an overview of the current political, social, and economic climate. Of course, woven amidst this information are Ritchie's own adventures amidst the natives, recounted in a amusing self-deprecating style reminiscent of Bill Bryson.
The chapter on Bermuda describes a lovely economic powerhouse beset with few social problems and a brilliant climate. It is essential readering for anyone planning to visit. Ascension Island gets short treatment as it is essentially a 35 square mile airbase, famous for about two seconds as a staging area during the Falklands War. Still, Ritchie manages to wring some humor out of the military types surrounding him there. Then it's on to the Falklands, which gets the lengthiest and most complex treatment in the book. Although the war was about 15 years past at the time of Ritchie's writing, the islanders are still in recovery from it, especially psychologically. It's a war that tends to be thought of as a bit of a joke (much like the US invasion of Grenada), but anyone reading this chapter will quickly learn that even the most minor of conflicts with minimal casualties are traumatic in the extreme to the non-combantants in the area.
Next is a tour of Gibraltar, which reveals its population as wildly diverse and deeply segregated. Again, there is some very interesting history here, especially the tension between "the rock" and mainland Spain. In the Caribbean, Ritchie visits the beautiful and deserted backwater that is the Turks and Caicos Islands. Struggling to develop, the islands languish out of sight and out of mind but are the equal in natural splendor of any other part of the Caribbean The next stop is Tristan da Cunha, which is probably the most interesting of any of the places Ritche visits. Originally a naval base, its civilian population began in 1817 with a British couple who produced 16 children, and almost two centuries later, one finds there are only eight surnames in use. Ritchie's five hour visit unearths an incredible 300 person utopia-a cooperative, sustainable, and happy community. Interestingly, due to its homogeneity, Canadian researchers have found it a perfect place to try and isolate the gene responsible for asthma. It's a territory that begs for further study.
Finally, Ritchie stops at St. Helena-the famous prison island of Napoleon. Here is perhaps the greatest example of woe and imperial neglect. Indeed, it's the capstone to a book whose somewhat bitter running theme is that Britain's few remaining imperial outposts (total population around 150,000) are being utterly neglected by their imperial owners. All in all, this is an excellent piece of travel writing, filled with good humor ("Ritchie's First Law of Colonial Life-which states that, whichever pink bit I visited, I would have a better than evens chance of meeting an expert on Scottish football), nuggets of history, and pointedly detailing problems and injustices in the last "pink bits."
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on 20 November 2005
I enjoyed this book. I found that despite the fact that Harry Ritchie had little time to spend in the various "pink bits" he did pass my personal test questions which are:-
1. Would I read it again?
2. Would I read any more books by the author?
3. Did it maintain my curiosity throughout the book?
4. Did the book make me smile?
5. Would I recommend the book to others?
The answer to all of the above was yes. I enjoyed reading about previously unheard of remains of the British Empire. The only down side was that Harry Ritchie had so little time to spend in the various places and I was left wanting more.
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on 7 October 2006
I was very disappointed in this book. Having read Simon Winchester's 'Outposts', I was expecting something along the same lines, but perhaps more up to date.

Having visited many of the places which he does deal with, I would broadly agree with his observations, but why, for instance did he not spend more time on Ascension? Yes, it's small, and yes, there's not a lot to see, but if you're writing a book about the last outposts of Empire, it surely behoves the author to do proper research on all the places concerned. Why did he not visit (or barely mention) Montserrat, a British island which is now engulfed by volcanic lava, and from which many of the residents have now fled? What about the Cayman Islands, Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands? No mention either of the British Indian Ocean Territories - difficult to visit because the US, who leases the islands, doesn't want people snooping around Diego Garcia, but Simon Winchester did at least visit them.

A timely update on these former Imperial outposts is long overdue. Anyone up for doing 'The Grand Tour?', and producing an interesting book about it?
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on 22 October 1999
While the end of the book descends into a depressing look at some sad little leftover bits of the Empire, the first report on Bermuda has got the to be the closest thing to being there you will find in English. And about the only thing you need to read before you go. Gilbralter is also a hoot. This man puts American travel writes to shame, with humor, information and analysis skillfully presented.
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on 22 March 2012
My brother really liked the book (a Christmas present) and was surprised, as I was, at the number of pink (i.e. British) bits still left in the World, although some are very small indeed!
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on 23 April 2001
The book is simply fantastic. At times you feel ashamed to be British (ie. the way Thatcher demanded that the Argies be wiped off the face of the Falklands - which would have resulted in a far greater loss of life) and in the next line you feel proud (ie. the way the commander of the British Forces over-rode her decision and negotiated a surrender). Bermuda does, as a previous reviewer said, come across as a quite amusing place to visit. The Falklands are still recovering from the war which has left many bitter memories. Tristan da Cunha sounds like an incredible place with a fully self-sustained community. (A bit like "The Good Life" on a mass scale!) St Helena is a disgrace with regard to what the British have done to it, whilst Ascension Island is just a military base. Gibralter offers an intriguing insight into the world of politics within a crown colony, and also of the Spanish reaction to having a colony on their patch, as it were. To summarise, it's a compelling read. Having a maths degree means my English should be apalling, and admittedly I become easily bored by books, but I couldn't put this one down, and I'm glad I didn't. Well down Harry!
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on 8 April 2012
Great product, just as advertised, and prompt delivery.
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