March - theme: Sheep (Memoir March)

Out of the Woods but not Over the Hill by Gervase Phinn

Two themes in one month this time! Alex gave me the theme of sheep and when I was looking online ideas I found that Memoir March is a thing. So I combined.

Backstory - Many years ago, when a bit down on our luck, Alex and I spent a summer living in his Nanna's house in Chesterfield. While there we made a start on renovating the house to be rented out. This involved sorting out some of the accumulated stuff of a lifetime. Some of this stuff was books. Lots of books. Being a bit of a reader, I started to work my way through the bookcases. I read among other things: an account of the 1953 Everest expedition, a biography of princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, all the green gables series, little women and a Dick Francis or five (the beginning of my love of Dick Francis). I also read Gervase Phinn's Dales tales of a school inspector books. These I found funny and I enjoyed the descriptions of schools and people in the Yorkshire Dales. While in Chesterfield, Ann (my mother-in-law) took me to hear Gervase speak and I found him humorous too. So when the theme of sheep was given to me it seemed the perfect time to read Phinn's memoir which has been sitting on my shelf for so long I can't remember where it came from - did Ann lent it to me? From the bookbox? a Thrift store? I have no idea.

Review - This one was a slog. Yes, it was funny in places, particularly when Gervase was recounting incidents with kids in various schools. The opening poem is very good. However, there was far too much of 'look at these funny place names', ' look people with funny names', 'oh, funny english words'. The second theme seemed to be 'the good old days'.

These two tropes I could probably forgive but the thing that made this book so tricky to get through was the lack of structure. Sure, it's in chapters and then subchapters within it but the heading at the top of the page seemed fairly irrelevant to what I was reading, it was all mostly the same. Just a series of anecdotes from his life, work, kids or general opinions on the world around him with no particular order. Most books billing themselves as a memoir or biography follow basically a chronological timeline and I'm fine with that.

My lasting impression was similar to that of having had to make polite conversation at a party or drinks reception with a pleasant, 70 year-old, white Yorkshire man. Except I wasn't required to actually nod and smile or laugh at the appropriate moments.

This was a flop. Sorry Gervase, I'm sure you are a nice chap but this was not your best work. 3/10

Staging Outcome: Back to Ann? or To The Bookbox