Defending the Pope from Relentless Right-Wing Dissent and Attacks: An Interview with Mike Lewis


Mike Lewis is the founding editor of Where Peter Is, a site dedicated to defending Catholic teaching and the pope from the myriad attacks launched by Pope Francis’ fiercest critics. Millennial editor Robert Christian recently interviewed him on the site, its aims, and the nature and prevalence of right-wing dissent in the US Church.

Why did you create Where Peter Is?

We started WPI because we saw a gap in Catholic media coverage and commentary of Pope Francis in the English-speaking world. Many conservative Catholic media outlets were regularly criticizing Pope Francis, his priorities, and his teachings. They were stoking all kinds of controversies and creating scandal among ordinary Catholics, including many of my friends and family members. The outlets that supported Francis were largely ignoring these issues. Hardly anyone was addressing the growing opposition to the pope, and the reactionary narrative was starting to take hold, because no…

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The Unlikely Runner goes further and faster

Reader, I did it! On Sunday 9th June 2019, accompanied by my wonderful sister Teresa (a multiple marathon runner and inspirational support) I ran the Sutton Beast, the local 10k race, in one hour and 19 minutes. And four days later I ran the Ely Runners 10k handicap in one hour and 16 minutes, two minutes inside my handicap time.

None of these numbers are particularly notable in terms of running times; almost everyone I know in Ely Runners can knock spots off them, but that isn’t important. What is important is that I managed to double the distance I could run and then carve large (largish) chunks out of the time that it took to do so. And that improvement in both time and distance was partly down to the efforts I put in with training and effort.

But, and this is a HUGE but, it’s mainly down to the wonderful outfit that is Ely Runners and the inspirational community of Littleport parkrun.

This blog was intended to be an update on how I’d progressed as a runner through 2019, but as I reflected on what to write my thoughts turned increasingly to the theme of community. The community of my running club, and the community of parkrun.

Ely Runners

As mentioned in the earlier episode of this blog, I joined Ely Runners in September 2019 after completing the Beginners’ Course. The weekly Tuesday evening intervals training sessions gradually helped increase my speed, though from the sheer running perspective I found them difficult. But what began to help most were two things to do with the club: firstly the rest of the runners, who would lap me regularly, always had a word of encouragement as they zipped past; and secondly people would come up to me and chat both before we began and after we finished. And I found myself beginning to get to know people who could run 10k, half marathons, marathons and more. It was a revelation!

Through the winter the people I got to know at the club helped me, occasionally advised me and always provided an inspiration. There are so many people that I owe thanks to that I’m scared to start listing them in case this turns into a roll call. But I really do have to give special mention to John and Kyle, who lead the training sessions and always give strong and helpful advice, to Hannah who got me through the Beginners’ course and started me on the way to 10k, and to Allistair and Michelle who helped me time and again through the longer runs this summer.

As we got into spring I decided to take part in the Thursday evening training runs. These were longer, steadier and a continuing challenge as they were leading me into distances I’d never run before. But with the support of Ely Runners friends it worked. And as I said at the beginning, I got to 10k which was my ambition at the beginning of the year. Since then I’ve slowly been upping my distance and increasing my speed and with the help of my coach Lauren I’m well into a training plan to complete the Cambridge Half marathon at the beginning of March.

Lauren (who blogs as Girl Running Late – well worth following by the way) is an example of how great is Ely Runners club. ER has a Facebook group for club members and somewhere in November, realising that I needed to do something drastic about the forthcoming half, I tentatively asked there if any of the club coaches fancied a challenge. Lauren responded that if there was commitment then she would be happy to take it up. And a few discussions and one training plan later I’m well on the way. Lauren is showing herself to be inspirational (she is sub 20 for 5k), encouraging and wise. She’s also a good friend.

Now, there are many running clubs who focus solely, if not mainly, on running excellence. These are the sorts of places that have minimum standards to join – typically sub 30 minutes for 5k or similar. A club like that wouldn’t even consider someone who is aiming at best for a 2:30 time at half marathon. But Ely Runners does. In fact, as mentioned above, they go out of their way to welcome and encourage slower runners and rejoice to see every small improvement we make. Lauren’s voluntary efforts to guide me to that half marathon is the exemplar of that, and I am entirely in their debt.

Littleport parkrun

For those who don’t know about parkrun, let me quote the opening lines of a great article on the subject from 2018:

Every Saturday morning at 9am sharp a little bit of anarchy breaks out across the country. This being Britain, it happens, naturally enough, in our parks.

At its most simple, parkrun is a timed 5k run/walk that happens every week. It is entirely volunteer driven, costs nothing to take part and requires no specific levels of fitness. And it is, above all, a community exercise.

My first parkrun, as I talked of in the earlier blog, was to mark my graduation from the ER Beginners’ Course . It was fun and exciting, and I’d never taken part in anything like it before. And it became part of my weekend. Initially I just ran it every week, but then began to volunteer as well, and I found myself in a fun and very supportive community. The speedy runners encourage those of us who are not so quick, and no matter how slow people go – trotting, walk/run, or just a walk – there are marshals and other runners giving encouragement. Latterly I have become more involved with the core team who keep the show on the road every week and have been hugely impressed with the selfless work that is put in.

The Littleport parkrun community is supportive of everyone who takes part, and everyone who takes part joins that community. I know that sounds all rather airy fairy, but when I see one of our speediest runners out on the course setting it up for others to benefit from it then it makes sense.

Running in my experience is a community exercise even though it’s an individual undertaking. And I am hugely thankful to both the communities that in one way or another have taken me in.

PS The article that I quoted from at the beginning can be found here.

The very unlikely runner

I’ve never been one for running. In fact I spent a lot of my youth poking fun at those of my acquaintance who did run, and never felt the least interest in the idea of it.

Then, some time in the autumn of 2017 I found myself listening to a radio show that included Sandi Toksvik talking about running. She said that she’d been getting concerned by her weight and complete lack of fitness as she got older and had decided therefore to do the Couch to 5k programme. At the beginning she couldn’t run 100 yards, but had persisted with it and nowadays could do a 5k at the drop of a hat. She said she felt a great deal better and had lost a lot of weight.

Now, I’d been thinking about fitness and age for a while. There had been a few trips to the gym over the years but nothing had ever stuck. Other than Morris Dancing (which demands a fair degree of effort) I wasn’t doing any exercise and was getting concerned about this. So when I heard Sandi on the radio that day I was struck by the thought that if she could do it, then why couldn’t I? The trouble was that I’ve never been particularly good at sticking to something when it got difficult, and realised that even the C25K was going to be a struggle, so a major incentive was required. Accordingly I told my daughters that this was my plan and for Christmas I needed running gear – for years I hadn’t even had a pair of trainers! They responded with enthusiasm, including taking me to Cambridge to get my gait checked and to select a decent pair of running shoes, and by Christmas Day I had running tops, leggings and gloves. And on January 3rd 2018, with Michael Johnson selected as the coach, I started the Couch to 5K app and set off on week 1, run 1. I never expected it to be easy, and by golly it wasn’t! That first day was 8 x 1 minute runs, interspersed with 90 seconds of walking, by the time I was on the 6th run each of those minutes seemed half an hour! But I did it, and followed the course all the way through. At times I really found it tough, (week 5 had to be repeated because the first 20 minute run completely floored me) but finally got there at the beginning of May. The thought of the girls having bought me all this gear was a very strong incentive in the tough runs and I’m not sure that I’d have got through it on willpower alone.

So by the beginning of May I was a C25K graduate, but wasn’t actually running anything like 5k. According to my Strava app at most I was managing to run just over 2 miles, around 3.5k. I occasionally ran with my sister and my daughter and the running distance very slowly crept upwards and at the end of May managed my first 5k, in the princely time of 44 minutes.

Shortly after this I was contacted by a chap called Justin from Ely Runners who wanted to publicise a beginner’s running course that club was organising. We talked a bit and before I knew it I was signed up. And that course was a revelation!

Up to this point I’d done almost all my running on my own, with, as mentioned, the occasional jaunt with my sister or daughter, but now I found myself running with 30 people or more. Most were faster than me but it quickly became apparent that that didn’t matter. However slowly I went there was always at least one coach or club runner keeping me company; their attitude was that I was a runner and they were helping me improve. And improve I did! The culmination of the course was a timed 5k that I completed in just over 40 minutes – 4 minutes faster than I’d ever done before. And so, on 25th August with many other graduates from the course I ran the Littleport parkrun and did so in less than 40 minutes. I was unbelievably chuffed! Since then I’ve run a further 11 parkruns and volunteered three times as well and lowered my PB to a bit over 38 minutes. I’ve also joined Ely Runners and go out training with them most weeks. It’s somewhat daunting to be training alongside people who regularly do marathons but a completely unexpected camaraderie has been uplifting. The greyhounds might lap me in training but they frequently give me a cheery word as they do so. I’ve made friends amongst people I never expected to meet and though it’s always going to be hard and I’m never going to worry Mo Farah I find that I enjoy being a runner.

Today is 3rd January 2019, exactly one year since I started the C25K, and tonight I begin my training to get to 10K. Wish me luck!

Blandings book 5 – Heavy Weather

This was the first Blandings book I ever read, when I was about 12 years old. The style and the characters grabbed me immediately, even though the story could be a little confusing with the multiple references to the earlier part of the story that is told in Summer Lightning.

Heavy Weather was written in 1933, four years after Summer Lightning and continues the story a few days after the end of that book. It introduces yet another of Emsworth’s sisters, the formidable Lady Julia Fish, the mother of Ronnie Fish who we met in Summer Lightning. We also meet Monty Bodkin who used to be engaged to Sue Brown, Ronnie’s fiancee. Monty is initially the assistant editor of Tiny Tots, the admirable children’s paper published by the Mammoth Publishing Company. He gets fired in chapter two and through his uncle Gregory Parsloe manages to wangle himself the position as Emsworth’s secretary – without Clarence’s agreement which subsequently leads to many misunderstandings, and eventually his getting fired again in chapter eleven. Monty occurs in several Wodehouse books following his time at Blandings, though no more in the saga.

The story follows the twin tracks of Julia and Connie trying to put a stop to Ronnie’s engagement to Sue, and also trying to keep Gally’s reminiscences from falling into the hands of Lord Tilbury (“Stinker” Pyke as he is known to Gally), owner of the Mammoth Publishing Company who has the publishing contract on them. The ghastly Pilbeam is still at the Castle, theoretically keeping an eye on the Empress, and finds himself being employed by both sides in the argument over the book.

Unlike most Blandings books there are no imposters in Heavy Weather. However the Empress does get stolen again, by Ronnie (yes, again!) who this time threatens to take her joyriding unless Clarence releases his money. It all works out in the end of course, to the joy of most, apart from those who think that Ronnie is marrying beneath him. The final sentence of the book signals the awarding of the silver medal to the Empress in the Shropshire Show, as she will become the first pig ever to win it twice.

This is Wodehouse again at full throttle. Funny, intricate plotting, and characters both likeable and not. You never do forget your first Wodehouse, and I love this one.

Blandings book 4 – Summer Lightning

Published in 1929, Summer Lightning was actually the second Blandings book that I ever read –  the first was, ironically, the one that follows on from this one.

It introduces one of Wodehouse’s greatest characters, Lord Emsworth’s younger brother Galahad. Gally, as he is known to all, had been a flamboyant man-about-town in his younger days who has moved back to Blandings to write his reminiscences. A man of imagination and with a sense of humour he brooks no nonsense from Connie or (as we shall see later) his other sisters. The description of him in the first chapter is a classic:

A thoroughly misspent life had left the Hon. Galahad Threepwood, contrary to the most elementary justice, in what appeared to be perfect, even exuberantly perfect physical condition. How a man who ought to have had the liver of the century could look and behave as he did was a constant mystery to his associates. His eye was not dimmed nor his natural force abated. And when, skipping lithely across the turf, he tripped over the spaniel, so graceful was the agility with which he recovered his balance that he did not spill a drop of the whisky-and-soda in his hand. He continued to bear the glass aloft like some brave banner beneath which he had often fought and won. Instead of the blot on a proud family he might have been a teetotal acrobat.

We also have most of the Blandings posse – Emsworth, Connie, Beach, and the Empress herself, plus one nephew, Ronnie Fish and another niece, Millicent Threepwood. Millicent is secretly in love with Emsworth’s secretary Hugo Carmody and Ronnie is secretly engaged to Sue Brown, a girl in the chorus at the Regal Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue.

Without giving away all of the plot suffice it to say that the story revolves around the theft of the pig by Ronnie (in order to find it again and get into Emsworth’s good books) and the pursuit of the reminiscences by Connie and Sir Gregory Parsloe in order to stop them being published. The plot twists and turns as others become embroiled, Connie gets Baxter back to help get rid of the reminiscences, Ronnie gets jealous of both Hugo and Pilbeam (a private detective), and of course the almost obligatory imposter (Sue)  makes her way into the Castle and is then exposed but in the end she has Gally on her side and love wins out over all obstacles.

Summer Lightning contains the first occurrence of something that happens at regular intervals through the rest of the saga: the theft of The Empress. Over the next few books she is stolen by several people – Ronnie, the first to do it, in this book, does it again in Heavy Weather. Gally does it too further on into the saga.

If we can think of Something Fresh as showing Wodehouse developing into a good humorous writer, and Leave it to Psmith being, as I said in an earlier blog the first of his really great books, then Summer Lightning shows his writing at the very best. This is Wodehouse at his peak! The humour is there, the plotting is superb and the standard is set for at least the next 30 years.

Blandings book 3 – Blandings Castle

Blanding Castle is the third book in the Blandings saga chronologically but was actually published after the fifth book, Heavy Weather. Subtitled “And Elsewhere” it is a collection of short stories that was first published in 1935, and consists of six stories about Blandings, one Bobby Wickham story and five Mr Mulliner stories about Hollywood. As good as the second half of the book is, my interest here is with that esteemed Shropshire establishment and thus this blog will be about those first six stories.

Well, mainly about those stories! Before getting into them, the preface to the book is worthy of note because famously it’s where Wodehouse discusses what he calls “the Saga habit”.

(The author) writes a story. Another story dealing with the same characters occurs to him, and he writes that. He feels that one more won’t hurt him and he writes a third. And before he knows where he is, he is down with a Saga and no cure in sight.

He then talks about his saga habit in regard to both the Jeeves books and the Blandings ones, and refers to the habit leading to ever decreasing intervals between one book and the next. And it’s the preface that allows me accurately to place these stories within the story line, because, and I quote: “these stories come after Leave it to Psmith and before Summer Lightning“.

So to the stories.

The first one, Custody of the Pumpkin, is when Lord Emsworth is in what proves to be a short lived phase of pumpkin growing, and trying for the prize for pumpkins at the Shropshire Show. It involves Freddie eloping with a relative of McAllister the head gardener, his Lordship being almost arrested for picking flowers in Kensington Gardens, and then Freddie’s new father-in-law turning out to be an American millionaire manufacturer of dog biscuits who offers Freddie a job in the company in New York. The latter prompting one of those Wodehouse laugh-out-loud moments that occur from time to time:

Lord Emsworth could conceive of no way in which Freddie could be of value to a dog-biscuit firm, except possibly as a taster; but he refrained from damping the other’s enthusiasm by saying so.

Three of the next stories are concerning Freddie, his new bride and his new job promoting the dog biscuits, Donaldson’s Dog-Joy. We also meet another of Emsworth’s sisters, Lady Georgiana Alcester, and these stories being set around Blandings there is, naturally, an imposter; Popjoy, in reality the Rev Rupert (Beefy) Bingham, in the story Company for Gertrude.

There are two stories that particularly stand out in the canon and in the saga. Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey is the first appearance of the Empress of Blandings, the prize black Berkshire sow who features in almost all of the subsequent books; and the pigman George Cyril Wellbeloved. As I mentioned above, this volume was published in 1935 but Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey was clearly written (or at least planned) far earlier because it is mentioned in the preface to Summer Lightning, the fourth volume in the saga.

The other brilliant story is Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend which is always one of the contenders in discussions of the funniest short stories that the Master ever wrote. The description of the tea tent at the annual Blandings Parva School Treat is wonderful:

All civilised laws had obviously gone by the board and Anarchy reigned in the marquee. The curate was doing his best to form a provisional government consisting of himself and two school-teachers, but there was only one man who could have coped adequately  with the situation and that was King Herod, who – regrettably – was not among those present.

Lord Emsworth spends most of his time being harrassed by his sisters, but every now and then he rebels and this story is one of those. It’s great to see him facing down both McAllister and Connie – we’re cheering him on.


Blandings book 2 – Leave it to Psmith

Leave it to Psmith (“the p is silent, as in pshrimp”), the second book in the Blandings Castle saga is notable on several fronts. It’s the first one where we see Blandings as it is portrayed in the rest of the saga: the terraces, the flowerbeds, the yew tree alley, and the atmosphere of the house are better defined than in Something Fresh where the actual location is rather more incidental to the story. It’s the book where we meet the first of Lord Emsworth’s formidable sisters, Lady Constance. (Yes, a previous sister, Lady Anne, is mentioned in Something Fresh but she plays no part at all in the story and never appears again.) Connie appears in most of the saga from here onward and is a constant thorn in the side of her brother. It’s also the book where Angus McAllister, Lord Emsworth’s head gardener first gets mentioned; he too crops up often.

Two other points of interest: one general to the Wodehouse canon, one pertaining to the saga.

Leave it to Psmith is the last Psmith book. He first appears in one of the school books, Mike, written in 1909. There followed two other novels (Psmith in the City, 1910, and Psmith, Journalist, 1915) before this final one.

And this is the book that contains the story of Baxter and the flower pots, something that is mentioned time and again throughout the saga.

Leave it to Psmith is the story of the theft of a diamond necklace belonging to Lady Constance, for reasons too complex to mention here. It has another of Wodehouse’s finest heroines in Eve Halliday. In most discussions among the Wodehouse illuminati she ranks with Joan Valentine and Jill Mariner as the most well drawn, likeable and engaging. Clever, resourceful, intelligent, a strong and faithful friend and extremely courageous in pursuit of the necklace, Eve is one of the very finest. Her changing relationship with Psmith, from the initial gift of the umbrella in the rain outside the Drone Club, to her mistaken belief that he is married to her best friend, through the perceived betrayal over the stolen necklace before the final reconciliation is drawn with perception and insight.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that the women who many would regard as Wodehouse’s finest heroines were written down between 1915, (Joan in Something Fresh) and 1923, (Eve in this volume), with Jill the Reckless (Jill Mariner its eponymous heroine) written in 1921. As his career progressed Wodehouse’s male protagonists tended to be more prominent in the stories and the women, though attractive and important, became less of personalities in their own right. Anne Benedick in Money in the Bank (1946) is the only other heroine (in my opinion of course) that stands out on her own.

Being a Blandings book it does, of course, have its share of imposters – three in this case: Psmith, Eddie Cootes and Liz (Aileen) Peavey. There is also Miss Simmonds who could be thought of as an imposter insofar as she is an undercover detective brought in by Baxter unknown to everyone else.

I would claim that Leave it to Psmith is the first truly great Wodehouse novel. It has superb humour! Chapter 11, called “Almost entirely about flower-pots” is 30 pages of narration telling the afore-mentioned story concerning Baxter and is a priceless read. The description of Baxter slowly going berserk with fury after being accidentally locked out of the house at 3am, looking for the stolen necklace and then waking his Lordship by throwing flower pots through his bedroom window is a piece of funny writing that arguably is some of the finest that Wodehouse wrote. But it’s more than that one chapter! Almost every part is funny. From Freddy conspiring with his Uncle to steal Connie’s necklace, to Psmith protecting Eve from the rain with an umbrella “borrowed” from the cloakroom of The Drones Club; from the description of Lord Emsworth’s looking for his lost glasses to the advert in the Morning Globe that gives us the title of the book – every part of this book is a sheer joy to read. I absolutely love it!

Blandings book 1 – Something Fresh

Although it is the first novel in the Blandings Castle saga, Something Fresh was one of the last that I read. As someone who had come to Wodehouse as he was approaching his prime (Heavy Weather, the first novel I read was published in 1933) initially I found the writing style of this one, which was published in 1915, only 12 years after he began writing, slightly less fluent. Not there’s anything wrong with the writing, but it does not quite have the free flowing narrative style of the Master in his pomp.

There are shades of the more erudite and conversational narration that became his style, particularly in the Jeeves and Wooster books, and occasionally he slips into the first person narrative, amongst which this is a favourite of mine:

“One of the Georges – I forget which – once said that a certain number of hours’ sleep each night – I cannot recall at the moment how many – made a man something, which for the time being has slipped my memory, and Baxter agreed with him”

Something Fresh starts in London and introduces us in the first chapter to the main characters of the story, Ashe Marston and Joan Valentine. In terms of character Joan is the most noteworthy and she is often considered to be one of Wodehouse’s finest heroines. She is clever, forthright, dynamic, resourceful and could fit right into a novel written a hundred years later in her arguments for women’s equality. She is not quite my personal favourite Wodehouse heroine, as that is Anne Benedick in Money in the Bank, (see my previous blog on that book) but she’s definitely in the top three.

Chapter Two introduces the Honourable Freddy Threepwood and his father, the Earl of Emsworth, both of whom are to become staples of the entire saga. There is a superbly humourous scene in the dining room of the Senior Conservative Club (a location that crops up occasionally in other books), before the action switches to Blandings Castle where all the subsequent books are set. And it is at Blandings that we are introduced to one of the saga’s most notable characters, the man we love to hate, the saturnine, bespectacled Rupert Baxter, who when we first meet him is Lord Emsworth’s secretary.

A further note on the writing: Wodehouse devotes five pages on the arrival at Blandings station to describe the moment of Ashe falling in love with Joan. It’s lyrical, tender, insightful and, as ever, slightly comic. And it is worthy of note because though described as a light and even comic writer, Wodehouse most certainly knew and could handle the finer aspect of human emotions when he wanted to.

The main thrust of the story of this book is to do with the accidental purloining by Lord Emsworth of a very rare ancient Egyptian scarab from Mr Peters, the father of Freddy’s fiance, and Mr Peters’ attempts to get it back. As ever with Wodehouse, the fun comes not so much from the events of the story but from the people who get caught up in it. Ashe and Joan meet up, both get conscripted separately to retrieve the scarab and end up falling in love. Freddy starts off being engaged and fearing a breach of promise case, and ends up as single, but relieved. The book shows an apparently well informed view of the hierarchy of life below stairs, and gives us our first introduction to Mr Beach, the butler. Interestingly, considered across the whole saga, Beach is the character that changes most in the writer’s mind and pen. In Something Fresh he is shown as a figure of immense superiority, aloof, ponderous and wholly separate. Within a couple of books he is shown as having a beer in the Emsworth Arms (one of the village pubs), and towards the end of the saga he is winning a darts tournament!

The final aspect of this book that becomes a common feature of almost all the Blandings book is the imposters. Joan and Ashe are the first of many. I can’t think of any Blandings books that don’t have at least one imposter.

It’s a fun book to read. It was written as a standalone novel in 1915 (none of the characters appears again until the second novel, Leave it to Psmith eight years later) and is very interesting to read it in that context. Emsworth, Freddy, Beach and Baxter are presented as characters with whom the reader is entirely unfamiliar and if Wodehouse fans can forget all the subsequent character development reading it is quite an exciting intellectual exercise.

Blogging about books, with particular reference to PG Wodehouse

Some time ago I set off with the intention of writing a blog a week about books. It went fairly well for the first few months of 2017 but then my daughter’s wedding intervened and knocked me out of my stride and sadly the whole enterprise staggered to a halt. Shortly after that another daughter announced her intention to marry, and that plus my personal project for 2018 (I’ve become a runner! Something that might well have a blog of its own at some point.) have managed to defer all thoughts of blogging.

Until now.

I want to start again, though in a manner that is less prescriptive, particularly in terms of time. I’m going to read all of PG Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle books in chronological order, and will write about each one as I go.

I was introduced to Wodehouse at the age of 10 by a friend of my father’s who, it transpired, had pretty much a complete collection of his books. He lent me A Wodehouse Miscellany, consisting of short stories, extracts from books and innumerable quotes. I greatly enjoyed it so he then gave me my first Blandings book, Heavy Weather. Though I didn’t know it at the time, this is actually the fourth volume in the canon and directly follows on from Summer Lightning, so some of the events and characters were a touch confusing. But I loved that book! The humour, the place, the style of writing and the characters all made an impression on my young mind and I was hooked. As I grew up my collection gradually expanded; I met Jeeves and Wooster; explored the wacky world of Psmith and devoured the thoughts and remembrances of both Mr Mulliner and The Oldest Member. All these books I read and re-read – still do.

Wodehouse aficionados will argue long into the night as to which parts of the Master’s oeuvre are the funniest. Some (well, ok, many!) will support the Jeeves and Wooster stories as the highest form; others are supportive of the golfing stories, the Blandings saga or the adventures of Ukridge. And I will freely admit to hugely enjoying all of these. But for me the stories of Blandings Castle, its dreamy owner Lord Emsworth, his numerous nieces and their suitors, his array of formidable sisters, his brother Gally (now there’s a bloke to go for a drink with!) and the supreme pig, the Empress of Blandings. These are the ones that pull me back most, time after time and I am greatly looking forward to reading them all again and sharing my thoughts in this blog in the weeks to come.

Book 16 – Notes from a Small Island

Bill Bryson first came to England in 1973, settled here in 1977 and has become probably our only American National Treasure. He has written books on the English language (Mother Tongue is superb!) and then developed into a travel writer with an idiosyncratic style that makes him always a joy to read.

After marrying here and bringing up a family, he decided in the mid-nineties to move back to the USA but before going he wanted to write a farewell to Great Britain. Notes from a Small Island is Bryson’s tribute to this country, written with an eye to detail, a command of language and a heartfelt love of the place that has long been one of my very favourite books. It is funny; it is accurate; it is perceptive. He shows us both the faults of the people and the systems and all that makes them so wonderful.

He packs the book with incidental facts about places that were (and still are) a surprise to me. There’s one part when writing about the Cotswolds where he gives just enough detail for an determined enquirer to find a genuine roman mosaid floor hidden away in a wood. Armed with an ordnance survey map and his hints we managed to find it too!

His perceptions on the way we think here are spot on. The first chapter contains a near parody of a pub discussion about how to travel somewhere that is side-splittingly funny and deadly accurate.

It is quite simply one of the best books about this country that’s ever been written. And as an aside, he has moved back here and now has a followup volume called The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island that is high on my list of Books To Get Very Soon.