Book of the Month: Fabulous Finn
My book of the month for March is one that's been out for the best part of a month - I would love to have been able to make it my book of the month for February but that would have meant delaying publication until 8th Feb, and I thought it would be better this way. I used to have a book about WWII canine heroes with a picture of a GSD very similar to Finn - it was a long, slim volume, not the usual shape of a book, but I treasured it throughout the 1950s and most of the 1960s, because I loved dogs. I was never allowed to have a dog as a child, even though the family had dogs previously. I had to wait until I met my wife in 1964, when she walked down the street in Stevenage with Butch. It was in Stevenage, our home for 25 years that the attack on Finn took place, and it was to our vet,Roebuck Vets, that he was initially taken for assessment. Dave Wardell doesn't dwell on the low life who committed the attack, this wonderful book is all about Finn and how he recovered, albeit slowly and with many setbacks. It's all about Dave's love for his dog, his treatment of Finn as a family member, which resonates with us very clearly, of course, and about all of the wonderful people who helped him and Finn to get back to normal. It's a real tear jerker. Best nonfiction book I've read this century, and that's saying something. Read my full review on the nonfiction page. See you next month.
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four super crime crackers...
Welcome to the March 2018 issue of Books Monthly! In this issue I want to share with you my continuing memories of the way we used to live in the late 1950s as we approached the 1960s, but first I want to draw your attention to the four books above, one of which moved me to tears (I'll leave you to guess which one!), and the other three fought for the right to be Crime book of the month for March. There is no doubt in my mind that my overall book of the month for March is Fabulous Finn, the story of Dave Wardell's unimaginably brave police dog who was critically injured by a knife wound and almost lost his life after an attack in Stevenage. This is an inspirational story and joins the only other book I have ever read that also moved me to tears: Black Beauty; except Fabulous Finn is a true story, and the horrific thing for me is that the criminal who attacked Finn and Dave, received a sentence of just four months. Surely carrying a knife with a 10" blade should have been sufficient to put him away for several years? As for the three detective fiction books, well, I've been saying for quite some time now that, of my three all-time favourite modern authors, (Stephen King, Stuart MacBride and Bernard Cornwell), Stuart MacBride has been edging it. An obvious choice, therefore, for crime book of the month? Not that easy. Alex Gray is an author I have only discovered in the last two months - I've read four titles of her fifteen William Lorimer books, and the enjoyment value is second to none. Finally, to J K Rowling, or rather, in the case of the Strike novels, Robert Galbraith. I'm halfway through Career of Evil, and I still can't decide which to choose for my crime book of the month... but at least I now know that I never will. They're all three equally fabulous, and along with Fabulous Finn, this makes for one of the most brilliant reading months I have ever experienced. Now on with the memories....
I was born Friday 13th September 1946 iat 72 Boverton Drive, Brockworth, Gloucestershire before there were such things as postcodes, and two years (approximately) before the advent of the National Health Service. Nurse Doyle, the attending midwife, declared to my Mum that I could be a German baby as I had a very square head. My earliest memory is of a nightmare - of monkeys climbing the walls of my bedroom, screaming, chattering. I was, apparently, six months old, having survived near death over the Christmas period at the hands of whooping cough. Naturally, I had no way of telling my parents that what were scaring me were monkeys, as I would have had no vocabulary at that very early stage of my life. But I was subsequently told that the room had a frieze at waist height, of zoo animals running around the room, and one small illustration was of monkeys swarming up creepers. There is no doubt in my mind that this was not the small bedroom at the back of the house that subsequently became mine, but the big bedroom, Mum and Dad's, at the front of the house, the one with the bay window and the electric two-bar fire that was mounted on the wall. My cot would have been against the wall that joined our house to the other house in that semi-detached block which had been built in the early 1930s, my family having followed other family members to Brockworth before the outbreak of World War II.
The likelihood of my actually being of German origin was absolutely nil but Nurse Doyle's comment is a clear indication that memories of the war that had ceased over a year prior to my birth still ran deep. There were no German prisoners of war in Brockworth, but there were Italians. A whole estate of Nissen huts had been built behind the houses of Boverton Drive, running its length up to Court Road, which ran along the top, to the right leading down to Ermin Street, the original Roman road that took you to Gloucester one way, to Cheltenham the other; and to the left, leading to the Vicarage and Brockworth Court and the farm. I don't remember seeing any Italians in Brockworth, although the butcher's name was Mr Jacomelli! My second infant memory was of me at age around two, sitting in a tin bath my Dad had dragged out onto the lawn in our garden. After that I remember being sat in front of the radio to listen to Listen With Mother, or being parked on the floor with a Mabel Lucie Attwell picture book, or a comic (Robin or Jack and Jill, possibly [It seems that both of these comics were not published until 1953, so it must have been something else]). I remember being round in my Gran's house when Uncle John came home from the public house down the road at lunchtime closing time, bringing with him the pub dog, a giant Alsatian called Rego. I remember standing next to Rego and looking up at his huge, friendly face - at least, he seemed to be OK with me, letting me stroke and touch him. Sometimes we sat under Gran's dining table together - he was a gentle giant and must have engendered the first stirrings of my first love of dogs, way back when I was three years old! I played in the large garden at 72 Boverton Drive, I helped Gran to feed the geese in Boverton Avenue, where she lived with Uncles John and Ernie.
And then nothing until catching the double decker bus that took my sister Jean and me to the little one-class primary school at Shurdington. I was at that point aged four and a half, and I recall sitting on what we called the sideways seat on the bus, right next to where the conductor stood, and being terrified of being thrown from the bus as we climbed the hill at what seemed to be a breakneck speed. My recollection is of the bus going south up the hill towards Coopers Hill, but my memory must be wrong because Shurdington is to the north, going towards Cheltenham. My memory playing tricks, it would seem! And it's usually so reliable.... not. Not now, anyway! It must have been in 1951, therefore, that Brockworth New County Primary School was opened, just a hundred yard walk from where we lived, and it was to this school that my older sister Jean and I transferred on its opening day, becoming amongst the very first pupils to attend. The headmaster was Mr Gillow, my form teacher was Miss Gail (Gayle, Gale?), and I remember a male teacher, Mr Rossiter. I fell immediately in love with Miss Gail. The curious thing about this school is that I can find absolutely no record of it on the internet. No mention of it, nothing, anywhere. And yet there it was, opening its doors in 1951, and it was definitely still there in 1963, when we left Brockworth forever and made our way to Southend on Sea...
And back to 1951. The vast bulk of my early childhood memories stem from my primary school years: the custard incident, the day the sky turned black and the teacher told us all to get under the tables (desks) and I wanted to stand at the french windows and watch the storm get blacker and blacker; the walks up to Coopers Hill - Cheeseroll Hill, me on my Tri-Ang bike being pushed by Mum or Dad; bottles of Tizer and Cream Soda from Mr Ellis's shop, along with packets of Spangles and bars of Fry's Five Boys or Chocolate Cream; a tin of toothpaste you had to soften with your wet toothbrush to get a lather; mashed swede for school dinner; trips to Tewkesbury in an ancient old car to pick daffodils... fairs and rotten fruit; scrumping apples from the vicar's garden... All of this and more in the months to come! Enjoy this month's selection of fantastic new books!
The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its twentieth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.