Head Over Heels in the Dales by Gervase Phinn

Head Over Heels in the Dales is a book in Gervase Phinn’s autobiographical Dales series. It is the third book in the series after The Other Side of the Dale  and  Over Hill and Dale.

Gervase Phinn is a school inspector. He works in the idyllic Yorkshire Dales. His life as an inspector with his motley crew of colleagues, the love of his life Christine Bentley and of course the children of the schools he visits makes up the story of the Dales series of books.

In Head Over Heels in the Dales, Mr. Phinn has started his third year as an inspector. Life is good as he is getting married to Christine. Finding a place to live and starting a new family takes up much time and resources. The trials and tribulations at work continue as there is talk of a new chief being appointed much to everyone’s discomfort. And of course amid all this the school inspections continue with mostly humorous results.

I found Mr. Phinn’s school visits very funny. I laughed out loud several times. Precocious little children and their often apt observations about life entertained me. Reading about the teachers was also enjoyable.

I did have one serious problem while reading this book. If it were fiction based on real life experiences I would have really liked this book. But the book is supposedly non-fictional. “Could real life be this dramatic or humorous?”– the thought often crossed my mind as I read the book. I have got a feeling that large chunks of the book maybe a tad embellished.

The personal side of the narrative I didn’t like all that much. Dr. Geraldine Mullarkey’s mysterious personal life, Mr. Phinn’s gushing musings on his stunning fiancée Christine with her big blue eyes and golden hair, Sidney Clamp’s mood swings, it was all so ‘fiction like’ and some of it was, frankly, irritating. 

As the book is supposed to be autobiographical and is tagged non-fiction, I do have some reservations about criticizing any of the book’s characters. These are supposed to be real people. Criticizing them without knowing anything about them feels inappropriate. But the truth is I found several of them to be quite insufferable.

Head Over Heels in the Dales is more or less enjoyable, especially the parts about the school visits. Most reader’s I think will not have my whole ‘feels almost totally unreal for a non-fiction’ problem. Others may enjoy this far more than I did.

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Very Good, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse


Very Good, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse is a collection of eleven short stories. All of these stories feature Bertie Wooster and his trusted butler Jeeves.

The collection was published in 1930. The stories themselves appeared in various magazines from 1926 to 1930.

In Jeeves and the Impending Doom (1926) Bertie must stop young cousin Thomas from exacting revenge on the Right Hon. A.B. Filmer all the while trying to appease aunt Agatha and keeping his friend Bingo Little out of trouble. I found the part about the short tempered swan to be particularly hilarious!

The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy (1926) has Bertie trying to help Sippy become more confident by standing up to his old headmaster and wining the hand of a young poetess. Meanwhile, Jeeves hates Bertie’s new vase. It is a reasonably funny story.

In Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit (1927) Bertie goes to spend Christmas at Skeldings Hall instead of Monte Carlo much to the chagrin of Jeeves. I think this is the story where the reason behind Bertie’s thirst for revenge against Tuppy Glossop is mentioned for the first time. This revenge story becomes a recurring one in almost every story that features Bertie and Tuppy together.

Jeeves and the Song of Songs (1929) has Bertie right in the middle of Tuppy Glossop’s tangled love life as he is forced to sing at a concert for Beefy Bingham. Anyone who has seen the 1990 series Jeeves and Wooster will appreciate this story even more. I recently watched a re-run of the show (I am too young to remember its original run) and thought  Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were absolutely marvellous in it!

In Episode of the Dog McIntosh (1929) the capricious Bobbie Wickham returns after the debacle of the Skeldings Hall Christmas as Bertie once again gets in to trouble with Aunt Agatha. This is an okay story.

In The Spot of Art (1929) Bertie falls for an artist, Gwladys Pendlebury and his rival in love Lucius Pim moves in to his house. I didn’t really find this story very interesting.

Jeeves and the Kid Clementina (1930) finds Bertie face to face with Bobbie Wickham again and soon he is in trouble anew. This story was reasonably funny. I enjoyed it.

In The Love That Purifies (1929) young Thomas’s true love for a screen goddess puts aunt Dahlia in danger of losing her cook extraordinaire Anatole. This story is funny and enjoyable.

Bingo Little’s married life is once again in jeopardy and once again its Jeeves to the rescue in Jeeves and the Old School Chum (1930). This is one of the best stories of the book.

In Indian Summer of an Uncle (1930), uncle George’s entanglement with a young waitress enrages aunt Agatha and Bertie, much to his dismay, is given the responsibility of breaking the affair up. Once again a funny and interesting story.

In the final story, The Ordeal of Young Tuppy (1930), young Tuppy Glossop intends to impress a country girl by playing a rather brutal game of village rugby. Jeeves duly interferes. This story was quite enjoyable.

My favourites are Jeeves and the Impending Doom, Jeeves and the Song of Songs, The Love That Purifies, Jeeves and the Old School Chum, Indian Summer of an Uncle and The Ordeal of Young Tuppy.

The book actually gets better as it goes on. The last few stories were really enjoyable.

I think I prefer Jeeves short stories to the novels. As it is I am really fond of short stories and the Jeeves short stories are definitely right up my alley.

I really enjoyed reading Very Good, Jeeves. It’s a pity it was a library book and I had to return it. This is the kind of book that I’d like to re-read in the future. Recommended.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The School for Scandal and Other Plays by Richard Brinsley Sheridan

Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751 –1816) was an Irish playwright and politician. The School for Scandal and Other Plays is a collection of five of his most famous plays, The Rivals, The Duenna,  A Trip to Scarborough, The School for Scandal and The Critic.

Sheridan’s first and arguably most famous play, The Rivals, was first staged in 1775. The play was an utter failure on its first night. Undaunted by this calamity Sheridan radically re-wrote and re-cast the play. The play’s second performance was a hit with the public and made the young writer an instant success.

The Rivals is a comedy of manners. Set in Bath, it is a classic tale of misunderstandings, mistaken identities and mix-ups.

Most of the scenes are funny. I particularly like the scenes leading up to the proposed duel between Jack Absolute, Bob Acres, Faulkland and Sir Lucius O’Trigger. Bob’s and his servant David’s nervousness about the duel is hilarious!

As with most of  Sheridan’s plays the characters’ names are a good indication of their natures. So, Mrs. Malaprop constantly uses words that sound like the words she wants to use but actually mean something entirely different, Sir Lucius O’Trigger is a very combative man and is often instigating fights; etc, etc.

The next play in the collection is The Duenna. The Duenna is not really a play but a comic opera. Sheridan collaborated with his father-in-law Thomas Linley, who was a successful composer, for this project. The Duenna was extremely successful having been performed seventy-five times in its first season.

The Duenna is essentially a parody of the hugely popular Spanish honour dramas.

The song  This bottle’s the sun of our table  sung by the Friars in the Priory caused quite a bit of controversy at the time. A song sung in appreciation of drinking by Friars was deemed inappropriate. The early Italian texts of The Duenna often omit the scene with the friars.

Even though The Duenna is an opera, the songs do not hamper the flow of the play in any way. The play is as funny as any of Sheridan’s other more conventional works.

The next play, A Trip to Scarborough, was first performed in 1777. This is not an original work. Rather it is a cleaned up version of John Vanbrugh’s The Relapse (1696). Sheridan changed the plot for the more conservative audience of the 18th century. Much of the rather bawdy language of the original text was also removed.

I personally like the sub-plot with Lord Foppington and his brother Tom Fashion much better than the main plot. I enjoyed Lord Foppington getting his just deserts.

The School for Scandal is a comedy of manners first performed in 1777.

I really don’t like the whole Sir Oliver Surface disguising himself and testing his nephews episode of the story. The character of Charles frankly irritates me.

I much prefer the scenes where the scandal mongering crowd discuss outrageous and most of the time untrue rumours. They entertain and disturb me at the same time.

The last play of the book is The Critic. It was first performed in 1779. The play is a satire on the production of plays. It is based upon an earlier play, George Villiers’ The Rehearsal (1671).

The Critic is a bit more sophisticated than the rest of the plays in the present collection. It doesn’t contain any unhappy lovers or misunderstandings. It simply presents the efforts of a not-so-talented writer to put on a profitable and, at the same time, an artistic play. The result is, of course, not quite what he hopes for.

This is one play that I’ve understood better with time. Some of the jokes, like the one about contemporary tragic heroines going ‘mad’ with grief (à la Ophelia), I appreciate better now.

“Enter Tilburina and Confidante mad, according to custom

SNEER. But, what the deuce, is the confidante to be mad too?

PUFF. To be sure she is. The confidante is always to do whatever her mistress does- weep when she weeps, smile when she smiles, go mad when she goes mad.-Now, Madam Confidante! But keep your madness in the background, if you please.”

Sheridan’s wit is unrivalled. His dialogues and characterizations are almost flawless.

My Oxford World’s Classics edition of The School for Scandal and Other Plays contains a rather large introduction to the text, a brief description of Sheridan’s association with the famous playhouses of his time and a chronology of his life and above all extensive explanatory notes and glossary. The explanatory notes are the best and the worst thing about this edition. They provided me with extensive background information on the plays and on the author. They certainly added to my reading experience. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to get many of the hidden allusions contained in the plays. But at the same time the editors seem over zealous. A lot of words that are still very much in use are included and explained in the notes. Seriously, how many of us don’t know what a ‘green room’ is? As the notes are at the back of the book I had to constantly flip back and forth, something that really irritates me. After all that flipping back and forth, they’d better tell me something worth knowing rather than something I already know!

I like all of the plays in this collection. The Rivals remains my favourite.  The Duenna and  A Trip to Scarborough are good.  The School for Scandal  is funny in parts. The Critic I’ve grown to appreciate more over time although it still feels a little unstructured.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan is undoubtedly one of my favourite authors. Seldom do I like almost every single work of any one author. Every writer has at least one or two duds, in my opinion. But Sheridan’s plays rarely fail to entertain me. As a result, The School for Scandal and Other Plays remains one of my eternally favourite books. Even after four-five re-reads I still laugh at the same jokes. This one never really grows old for me.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith

“WHY should I not publish my diary? I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never even heard of, and I fail to see – because I do not happen to be a ‘Somebody’-why my diary should not be interesting.”

And publish it he does. The Diary of a Nobody chronicles the daily life of a certain Mr. Charles Pooter, covering nearly a fifteen months time period. Written by George Grossmith and illustrated by his brother Weedon Grossmith, this is a classic humorous novel.

The Diary of a Nobody first appeared in Punch magazine from 1888 – 89. It was published in book form in 1892.

The diary of Mr. Pooter feels real. The mundane details of his drab, suburban life are presented without much pretension.

Mr. Pooter is a simple middle aged city clerk. Living in the imagined Brickfield Terrace in Upper Holloway, he is the archetypal lower middle class man from the Victorian era. He is very class conscious and constantly tries to impress his social superiors. He frequently fancies himself being insulted by others. To be fair, others do often make fun of him, quite openly, so the being insulted part is to some extent true.

Mr. Pooter’s wife Carrie is obviously smarter than him and has a mind of her own. I like the way they disagree on so many things and yet their mutual love remains intact.

The character of Lupin, Mr. Pooter’s 20 year old son, I found really irritating. Lupin is pompous, ungrateful and thinks his parents are beneath him. His flippant attitude and gross lack of respect for everyone is, I guess, meant to be funny but I found it annoying. He is the one character that bothered me from beginning to end.

Mr. Cummings and Mr. Gowing are dull and kind of weird. Nevertheless, they are somehow rather apt best friends for Mr. Pooter to have.

I found several parts of the book quite funny. Like Lupin recklessly driving a pony-trap and causing general havoc in the streets while Mr. Pooter being seated at the back has to bear the wrath of  ‘a gang of roughs in a donkey-cart’. Or Mr. Cummings becoming ill and being angry at his friends for not reading about his illness in The Bicycle News. And Mr. Pooter getting annoyed after having to eat the same blanc-mange repeatedly.

I liked the short summaries at the beginning of each chapter. For example, the Chapter XIII summary, “I receive an insulting Christmas card. We spend a pleasant Christmas at Carrie’s mother’s. A Mr. Moss is rather too free. A boisterous evening, during which I am struck in the dark. I receive an extraordinary letter from Mr. Mutlar, senior, respecting Lupin. We miss drinking out the Old Year.”

The writing is lucid. Many have called it dated. I didn’t find it so.

This is a very easy to read book. I managed to finish it in just a day.

The cover of my Penguin Essential edition is simply awful! I hate this cover! It is just so weird looking.

I know this is supposed to be a satire on the snobbery and the dullness of the middle class folks but I felt rather sorry for Mr. Pooter. Sure, he is boring and old-fashioned but he is a good, honourable man who is just trying to do the best he can. My sympathy certainly lies with him.

I found The Diary of a Nobody to be overall an enjoyable read. But if the purpose of the book was to ridicule Mr. Pooter, that purpose has been defeated. I liked him and felt sorry for him.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.