Five ‘must read’ transport books and five political/historical books.

Class 101 DMU, Bury Bolton Street

Nearly two years ago, East of the M60 had a rundown of five transport books and five autism spectrum books. This time, as a follow-up, East of the M60 has chosen five more transport books. In place of five autism spectrum books are five political/historical books. Once more, trashy airport terminal type novels are gleefully omitted. As for the Star Trek/Star Wars type stuff, ditto the above.

Five Political or Historical Books

1: Best Book for Long Haul Flights/Coach Journeys: When the Lights Went Out, Andy Beckett (Faber and Faber, 2010): ‘When the Lights Went Out’ is a rip-roaring ride/exorcism of 1970s Britain. Its 576 pages includes everything you needed to know about the Three Day Week, Grunwick and the rise of Thatcher. There is a mix of pathos thrown in, told from the viewpoint of a novel. Its brevity makes for a compulsive read, so there’s half a chance you may finish reading sometime before you reach your destination.

2: Best Book for Lengthy Rail/Coach Connections: The Other Fleet Street, Robert Waterhouse (First Edition, 2004): Robert Waterhouse was a well known figure in Mancunian journalism circles. In more recent years he formed the North West Times (1988) and the North West Examiner (2006). ‘The Other Fleet Street’ is a comprehensive account of Manchester’s newspaper history from the Taylors and Scotts of the Manchester Guardian to the Sunday Sport. It includes anecdotes from journalists based on Great Ancoats Street and Kemsley House, reference to photographers and the launch of the Daily Star (the Daily Express‘ Great Ancoats Street building was the birthplace of the said newspaper). Due to its easy reading nature, this is the best book for wiling away 30+ minute waits at Chorlton Street Coach Station or Manchester Piccadilly railway station.

3: Best Book for the Beach: Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of Labour Supporter 1979 – 1997, John O’ Farrell (Black Swan, 1999): this humorous memoir of trying to fight for a Labour government is essential reading for political animals of any colour. If you’ve leafleted for years without success, you could relate to this book easily.

4: Best Book for UK wide Rail Journeys: Waiting for the Etonians: Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England, Nick Cohen (Fourth Estate, 2009): a doom laden yet prophetic tome which anticipated the arrival of David Cameron and his millionaire cabinet. This seemingly heavy book is a compilation of articles by The Observer journalist structured as a historical account of how vox populi has fallen for the Old Etonians in a Doctor Strangelove kind of fashion. The length of each article makes the book more digestible on the most mundane and even along short rail journeys.

5. Best Book for Bedtime: Strange Days Indeed: The Strange Days of Paranoia, Francis Wheen (Fourth Estate, 2009): Francis Wheen’s book gloriously scotches the myth of the 1970s as being a decade dominated by ABBA, three day weeks and strikes. Instead of covering the most obvious angles, it focuses on the underlying paranoia of the decade. President Nixon, Harold Wilson and Rupert the Bear feature in this tome with the latter a subject of an obscenity trial (a cartoon parody of the said bear in Oz magazine).

Five Transport Books

1: Best Book for Long Haul Flights/Coach Journeys: Eleven Minutes Late, Matthew Engel (Pan MacMillan, 2009): part history and part treatise on the shortcomings of Britain’s privatised railway, Matthew Engel is let loose with an All-Line Rover ticket and visits far flung corners of the UK rail network. His quest takes him to little known and little used stations, involves supporting roles from the dreaded Pacer units, and (after several years) the quest for an individual jam pot from a railway buffet car. His irreverent writing style will make the most tedious of journeys go fast.

2: Best Book for Lengthy Rail/Coach Connections: On the Slow Train, Michael Williams (Preface, 2010): whereas Matthew Engel’s work incorporates reference to George Stephenson and National Express in the same book, this one is firmly in the present with each chapter representing the journey Michael has taken. Instead of the tried and tested, he ventures onto largely forgotten secondary lines, those which have survived the Beeching/Marples axe. His travels take him to Sellafield, to London Marylebone on the (sadly deceased) Wrexham and Shropshire Railway’s real trains and to Berney Arms station, one of Britain’s most remote rail outposts on the Norfolk Broads. If you liked the Matthew Engel book, this one is also highly recommended.

3: Best Book for the Beach: Glory Days: Manchester and Salford: A Century of Municipal Transport, Michael Eyre and Chris Heaps (Ian Allan, 2001): with a good mix of text and photographs, Eyre’s and Heaps’ book offers a pithy account on the former municipalities. It covers everything you need to know in an easily digestible form. Therefore, I would consider that as good beach side reading.

4: Best Book for UK wide Rail Journeys: British Railways First Generation DMUs, Hugh Longworth (OPC Railprint, 2011): if you have a yearning for the older diesel multiple units, this book is the definitive reference on the subject. Each DMU is categorised by TOPS and coaching stock numbers. As well as photographs, the real icing on the cake are seating plans of each carriage and trailer type. There is also reference to the Derby Lightweights and railbuses. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend reading your copy aboard a Class 150 Sprinter, compare contemporary examples and see where we went wrong in the practice of lining seats up with windows.

5. Best Book for Bedtime: Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection (Rev. W. Awdry, 1948 – 1963): for the family room, or a nostalgia trip, the collected works of Reverend Wilbert Awdry never fail to impress rail enthusiasts of all ages. For older rail enthusiasts it takes them back to simpler times, for youngsters, it is all about each of the trains having a character of their own. Needless to say, Thomas the Tank Engine is partly to blame for my love of all things rail related (though not quite as much as one journey hauled by a Class 45 diesel to York in April 1984), even though I knew (at nearly 5 years old that) Peaks, Whistlers and Ivatts didn’t have a mouth and moving eyes.

Any more worthy mentions or comments on the reading list?

Feel free to comment on the reading list or suggest equally worthy alternatives for the coach trip, the windy shelter on Dovey Junction, or the bedside. Peep peep…!

S.V., 16 July 2011.

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