Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005
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****The Other Side of the Dale

by Gervase Phinn

Reviewed February 23, 2005.
Penguin Books, New York, 1998.  276 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (B PHI).
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005 (#2, Biography)

Here’s a delightful memoir, written by a County Inspector of Schools in Yorkshire.  His writing is reminiscent of James Herriot, though instead of dealing with the animals of the Dales, he’s dealing with the children.

Gervase Phinn knows how to tell a funny story.  He begins by telling about his search for a little school in the Dales.  When he asks for directions, he’s told he wants the other side of the Dale.  “Then followed a series of detailed instructions on how to get to Backwatersthwaite, punctuated periodically by the other customers in the post office.  The journey, described in seemingly endless detail, involved a veritable expedition that took me via Brigg Rock and Hopton Crags to pass by Woppat’s Farm, past the Bull and Heifer Inn at Lowerwatersthwaite, then through Bishopwatersthwaite, Chapelwatersthwaite, and along Stoneybrow Rise, and over Saddleside Edge.”  When he seems to be in a hurry to leave, he’s told “It’ll still be theer when thy arrives—it’s not goin’ anyweer.”

Another story I like is his job interview.  The other pretentious applicants discussed their advanced degrees and research.  He despairs of even being considered.  When offered the job, he was told, “We’re a plain-speaking people in this part of the country, Mr. Phinn, and we can’t be doing with folk who think they are God’s own gift to education.  No disrespect to some of the other candidates but we don’t put people on pedestals in Yorkshire—they nobbut want dustin.’”

The rest of the book talks about his adjustments to the job, dealing with difficult and colorful characters, and how everyone seems to think he should look for a wife.  Of course, the book is also full of funny and perceptive things that children say to him.  I like the girl who tells her mother “He’s called Mr. Grim, and he’s a spectre!”

I meant to read this book slowly, a chapter at a time, but it was simply too much fun.  I read it through in a few days and immediately checked out the next book and put the third one on my Amazon Wish List.  I especially recommend this book to teachers, since they will recognize some of the situations.  This is a warm, humorous book that makes a delightful read.

Reviews of other books by Gervase Phinn:
Over Hill and Dale
Head Over Heels in the Dales
Up and Down in the Dales

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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