The Nation’s Favourite – Simon Garfield

True Adventures of Radio 1

If you grew up listening to Radio 1 in the 80s then this tale of Radio 1 in the 90s is a must. Sagas of despotic jocks long gone and tales from along the rocky road to Zoe Ball via Chris Evans and Simon Mayo, with detours into pre-Home Truths Peel and the production teams behind the scenes.

An absolute Gem.

I borrowed this from Phil, and then ignored him for the next 48 hours until I’d finished it.

Buy it: Amazon Link

Samurai William – Giles Milton

This one’s been on my radar for a while, so I took the opportunity of turning 33 to include it on my birthday wishlist. Et voila (merci a TJBR).

Reading well so far – plenty of late 16C/early 17C history, both of Japan, Asia and the Far East, and of Europe. Quite a change from euro-centric stuff I studied at school, college and university, and the global perspective is fascinating. It’s even inspiring me to dip my toe into reading some popular Economics texts….

So what’s it about? William Adams, a 17C sailor/navigator-pilot/adventurer who wound up living in Japan for more than a decade, and rising to the position of hatamoto in Shogun Ieyasu’s court, becoming fluent in japanese and owning large tracts of land and servants/slaves.

So yes, the story that I’d say provided the inspiration for James Cavell’s Shogun.

Verdict: Well, the Samurai William story off in the second half of the book, to be replaced by that of Richard Cocks, the manager of the English factory in Japan. And that shift of emphasis, and the lack of information on Samurai William, and what became of his Japanese family, was frustrating. That said, I’m sure that Giles Milton made the most of what limited information there is… and my disappointment with the second half of the book reflects the strenght of my enjoyment of the first half.

Buy it: Amazon link

A Bend in the Yellow River – Justin Hill

Planning to start this on the tube home tonight – the blurb claims to offer “a first class introduction to contemporary China” – albeit pre-SARS.

Verdict: I thoroughly enjoyed it! Read the review below….

Buy it: Amazon link

The edited diary of Justin Hill’s 2 and a bit year stint as one of 2 VSO volunteers in a remote Chinese teaching training school makes for fascinating reading. The day to day events and accompanying emotions recounted in Justin Hill’s diary provide the reader with a window into the world of the VSO volunteer in China, as an alien looking LaoWai, 5 years after the Tiannamen Square massacre. The record also gives glimpses into both the lives and the characters of the people Justin and fellow VSO volunteer, Marco, meet, through work, through bureaucracy, and in the course of everyday life in Yun Cheng.

Looking at the sketch map provided at the start of the book, Yun Cheng doesn’t look that remote. But it doesn’t take many pages before you realise that Shanxi province is a million miles away from any image or expectation of China most of us would be able conjure up – 6 hours by ytrain from Yuncheng to Xian. 46 hours from Xian to Guanzhou, 1 hour from GuanZhou to HongKong. The distance, and the cultural and social isolation, is brought home at the end of the book, at a point where thre narrative had shifted from observing Yun Cheng and its people through the eye of an outsider and has begun to look deeper, raising questions of how much control the state, both cental organs and the local party, has over people’s lives and aspirations.

And yet for most people Justin Hill met during his time in Yun Cheng, “a small town where the people have narrow horizon’s between mountains and chimney stacks”, this town was the most exotic place they would see. For a reader living in a city where where people fly to New York or Paris, Istanbul or Iceland for the weekend, the differences are stark indeed; and all the more fascinating for that.