MY introduction to Don Quixote took place in a pub called The Clarence in the northern town of Dalton-in-Furness, back in 1974, and at a time when I was obsessed with a song called Pinball and the world seemed a much milder, progressive and optimistic place. On the wall opposite the bar hung a colourful and captivating image of two dark figures crossing an evening landscape – one tall and shabbily elegant on a broken-winded horse, the other small and fat, perched upon a mule. From the dust of Spain, Don Quixote and his devoted servant and friend, Sancho Panza, had strayed into a world of rain, bar-billiards and pigeon racing. It was an unusual subject for a Lancashire pub where old men with their ties tucked in their trousers occasionally reminisced about the trenches and chuckled over cards and cribbage boards, but it lifted the decor from fifty shades of nicotine and elevated the conversation of the clientele . . . Continue reading Don’s the one
THERE’S a swallowtail butterfly in the lavender. It busies itself drifting from one plant to another, gathering nectar or whatever it is that butterflies do. This insect – as delicate as it is – triggers a thought process in the recesses of my mind and liberates forgotten memories. I am transported to a terraced house in a Lancashire village where coal trains from Cumberland clank past the front door and high moors rise from the back . . . Continue reading Fifty years later . . .
THE best books are about obsessions. The subject matter is largely irrelevant because the reader can identify with the enthusiasm of the author. Subjects as diverse as the history of typefaces, Edwardian ironmongery, or collecting sugar-cube wrappers become fascinating dimensions hitherto unknown, let alone explored. Obsessions unravelled by the obsessed are intriguing because we can detect telltale signs of ourselves in the text. We recognise traits. We are warmed by the eagerness of a fanatic. So when a man in Norway writes a passionate treatise on the art of chopping and stacking firewood, and we absorb the words he has carefully crafted, we smile because we think: that’s how I feel about renovating my 1967 air-cooled Volkswagen T2 split-screen campervan, or polishing my 1,679 hexagonal ink bottlers, or cataloguing my collection of Oor Wullie annuals. We are warmed, and we smile, because the author has sent us a signal: we are not alone. There are others out there with similar passions. And those passions run deep and ripple against distant shores. We have been rippled . . . Continue reading Norwegians would