Monthly Archives: December 2022

It’s not very Christmassy, but there’s a lot of snow

Review: Vivien Horler

The Last Chairlift, by John Irving (Scribner)

Many years ago I was in a London book shop, torn between three books. One was John Irving’s The World According to Garp. When I couldn’t make up my mind, the shop attendant put the other two books aside and said: “Take Garp. This is the novel to end all novels.”

The Last Chairlift is a bit like that. It’s a monster of a book, nearly 900 pages, and it took me two weeks to read. It’s about New Hampshire and Aspen in Colorado, it’s about ghosts, it has gay and trans characters, movie stars, stand-up comediennes, wrestling, and a lot of skiing.

It isn’t a very Christmassy book to be posting on Christmas Day, but there is also a lot of snow.

And it’s also about tolerance and love. Continue reading

Learning the lessons of African travel, one painful lesson at a time

Review: David Bristow

African Traveller: Twenty years of adventures as a documentary filmmaker,  by Neil Shaw (self-published)

Neil Shaw is hardly your typical African traveller, whatever that might be. As a lad in Malawi collecting chewing-gum packet cards of the flags of Africa, he dreamed of visiting all those countries.

Years later, on an impulse, he decided to become a documentary filmmaker, bought a Panasonic mini DV palmcorder and a train ticket.

That was also when, on his first documentary-making trip – taking public transport from Cape Town to Dar-es-Salaam – he learned his first lesson in African travel: anything that can be stolen will be: padlocks on backpacker inn doors notwithstanding.

A quick five-minute visit to the local market and his digital film camera, battery charger, all his recorded tapes and his backpack gone like a robber’s dog.  That was first but not the last he had all his stuff stolen. Continue reading

Faf’s story should have had a happy ending

Review: Archie Henderson

Faf Through Fire, by Faf du Plessis with Marco Botha (Flyleaf)

In sports biographies there are broadly two categories: the narcissistic and the cathartic. Many of the former are about footballers, notably Wayne Rooney, whose first biography appeared when he was only 20, precocious certainly but still too young to tell a good story. Faf du Plessis’s autobiography firmly belongs to the latter.

Faf is one of the finest players to emerge from the South African cricket’s assembly line: wealthy schools (both public and private) that are able to devote money and energy to providing academic and sporting excellence. Faf’s years at Afrikaans Boys High in Pretoria were vintage ones, producing four future international players including South Africa’s best batsman, AB de Villiers.

For a while Faf operated in the shadow of his friend AB, but a perceptive observer once advised me to “also watch that Du Plessis kid” when both were still schoolboys and when AB was already an obvious talent. Faf ended his international cricket career with a Test average of 40.02 from 69 matches. For those who are not in the know it’s an impressive number. Interestingly, it is a fact he does not mention once in this book. Continue reading

The fortnight when we came close to oblivion

Review: Vivien Horler

Abyss – the Cuban missile crisis 1962, by Max Hastings (William Collins)

Over the past 60 years I’ve had a pretty good life. I went to university, obtained two degrees, married, had a child – and now have two grandsons, have travelled, and held down a good job. My pension enables me to live without financial worry.

I have been fortunate, but then, so have we all. Because when I was 10 years old, the world came within a whisker of being blasted to smithereens.

This was at the height of the Cold War, and USSR premier Nikita Kruschev decided to move nuclear missiles to Cuba, aimed at the heart of the United States. He knew very well that US President John Kennedy was going to react to this provocation, but he didn’t care. Continue reading