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Walking the South West Coast Path

A Companion Guide

by Simon Butler & Philip Carter  (Pixz, £9.99)

Walking the SWCP book cover

A COMMON refrain that runs through my head when I’m out walking and I notice an interesting building or geographical feature is ‘I wish I knew something about that’.

I vow to look it up when I get home – and invariably forget.

For walkers on the South West Coast Path, myself included, there is now no excuse to remain in ignorance, thanks to a book that reveals secrets and fascinating facts about so much that can been seen along the 630-mile route, between Minehead, on the Somerset coast, and South Haven Point, on the southern edge of Poole Harbour.

Who knew, for example, that Durlston Castle, the curious sort of wedding cake atop the cliffs near Swanage and a pathside landmark that would certainly pique a walker’s interest, was originally built as a restaurant in 1890?

Thanks to this endlessly fascinating book, I can show off my wisdom to allcomers, wherever I might encounter them as I walk the path. I can tell them that Tintagel was the home of F.T. Glasscock, a man who made his fortune from custard, and that a hotel at Mount Batten, where the path heads east of Plymouth, used to be a guano processing plant.

Less arcane are the facts about the many churches and features of industrial archaeology that are encountered on the route. History and legend, folklore and irrefutable fact all have their place, too (even if the many exclamation marks do not).

The Companion Guide is based on Exploring the South West Coast Path, written by Philip Carter, a founder member of the original South West Way Association in 1973. Sadly, Philip died in 2011, after 40 years of passing on his enthusiasm for the path and helping to secure its use for generations of fortunate walkers.

In this volume, which reproduces the original foreword that Philip wrote for his book, Simon Butler has sourced illustrations that enable the walker to compare views of landscapes, towns and villages as they are now with how they looked in bygone days.

Aerial photographs are especially compelling and many show the path itself winding sinuously around headlands and coves as it takes its walkers along some of the most beautiful coastal countryside in Britain.

Whether your journey along the SWCP is the whole thing or just a few miles, this book will enrich the experience no end. Its format does not lend itself to being popped into a daypack or rucksack: it is too chunky for that. Better, perhaps, to read it before you pull on your boots and commit what you can to memory.

However you choose to use it, it will most certainly reward you.

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Trigiani rev road Lost for Words The PO Girl Troubles

LIKE many keen readers, I belong to a book group. I’ve been with the same crowd of friends for many years, enjoying not just their company but their choice of books, too.

Or that’s my story if asked. But since you are asking, and no doubt expecting a truthful response, I don’t always enjoy the books.

I know one of the reasons for reading a book that someone else has picked for you to read is to have your eyes opened and your mind expanded by a different experience, being forced off straight lines and into new territory. That’s the theory.

In practice, my book group almost always plays it safe. Nothing too experimental or cutting-edge. No modern black writing, no exploration of feminist issues, nothing likely to challenge us too much. It’s comfortable stuff, in the main, so we get plenty of Margaret Forster (no complaints, she’s great, but do let’s move on a bit, please) and recently were tasked with grinding through to the end of a overly-long historical romance by Andrea Trigiani. I didn’t manage it, I’m afraid. In fact I didn’t even bother to get hold of a copy to start the heart-sinking task.

Before the groupies’ meeting where we were due to discuss the book, I conducted a brief debate with myself on what would be the best thing to do. Should I check out the reviews on Amazon and cobble together my own response from that research, or admit I couldn’t face it and risk being regarded as a book-snob?

I chose the latter, and wasn’t drummed out. In fact, I don’t think anyone really cared, which just goes to show how little notice they must take of me when I do express an opinion on a book.

My groupie mate Liz and I seem to be the only members who ever choose books written by male authors. A couple of my favourites, which thankfully everyone enjoyed when I chose them, were Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates (I could read it 100 times and never tire of its clever, chilling and penetrating spotlight on suburban mid–1950s America) and J.G Farrell’s Troubles, winner of the so-called Lost Booker Prize 40 years after it was written in 1970.

Liz introduced us to Stefan Schweig in his wonderful The Post Office Girl, and we recently read one of her choices, Lost for Words, a satire of the literary world, by Edward St Aubyn, which is an absolute little masterpiece of exquisite writing and memorably dotty characters. These books will, I know, linger with me for a long time, which is the best result one could wish for as a reader – especially a reader of someone else’s choices.

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MICHAEL Bearcroft, a passionate reader and collector of books, bought half-a-dozen paperbacks to take with him on a Mediterranean cruise.

After a few days he’d finished the first two, but had not enjoyed either. He complained to his wife, Sue, about how disappointing he’d found them.

“Write your own, then,” she countered. “You’re always saying you want to write a novel, so now’s your chance to do it.”

Michael, 67, of Park Road, Henstridge, recalls how he bought up every notebook on the ship and wrote happily all the way back to port. The writing continued long after the holiday, as the tale he’d been yearning to tell poured itself out on to page after page, in unruly longhand.

Sue converted the chaos into a tidy, typed, manuscript and Michael contacted a literary agent. He barely expected a response, let alone a positive one.

“I was stunned when the agent said he thought the book could make it,” Michael says.

Two years after that first sentence of Dangerous Score was written in the middle of the Med, the thriller – a tale told through 100 tumultuous days of a soccer player’s life – has been published. With the subtitle ‘Murder, intrigue and the beautiful game’, the book also shines a light into the dark and troubling world of human trafficking.

Advance copies have attracted an enthusiastic response from readers of both sexes and from football fans and those with no interest in the game, so both the author and the publisher, Dynasty Press, are confident it will find its way on to the bookshelves of all lovers of a gripping, pacy, page-turner.

Michael’s own life story makes a cracking read, too, his interests and skills having led him into a variety of roles that no careers teacher could ever have predicted for him.

Brought up in Sheffield and a mustard-keen footballer, he was talent-spotted as a lad by a Sheffield United scout and played with club’s youth teams through his teenage years. The Blades let him go at 17 – “I wasted my opportunity,” he recalls. “I messed around and didn’t take it seriously enough.” However, that footballing experience was to stand him in good stead in later years when he became chairman of Corby Town FC. Along the way, he made many friends and contacts in the higher echelons of the game.

Michael continued to enjoy playing football as a semi-pro in south Yorkshire while an aptitude for sales led him into a successful career in marketing and management. At the age of 50 he took a bold leap into acting, using the same agent as his wife, who was a dancer at the London Palladium and major UK theatres, as well as television and commercials.

A keen Western rider, Michael took roles in a variety of TV dramas, including Peak Practice, Casualty, Dangerfield and The Bill, before training as a theatre director and director of musicals.

In 2008 he was named best director in the south-west region by the National Operatic and Dramatic Association, an accolade that confirmed how far he’d come from the world of soccer.

After touring a successful murder mystery production company called Murderous Liaisons, Michael franchised it and then sold it to help fund the launch of the musical stage show he created, Back to Broadway, whose tour of UK venues has included The Exchange at Sturminster Newton, where it was a sell-out.

With Sue, Michael now runs summer musical theatre schools at venues all over the country.

Since their move in 2010 to the Somerset-Dorset border, where Michael says they are “extremely happy in such a lovely village”, life has taken a bumpy turn. Ill-health has brought Michael into close touch with the NHS at Salisbury, Bristol and Yeovil hospitals, all of whom earn his praise for superb care.

Now recovering from a triple bypass, following a heart attack in August, Michael is turning his thoughts to a sequel to Dangerous Score. “I have some other books in my head at the moment, too,” he admits, “but I think the sequel must come first.”

In the meantime, Dangerous Score was formally launched at GoodisonPark, Everton Football Club’s ground at an event attended by many of soccer’s big names.

Royalties from sales of the book, through Amazon, bookshops including Waterstones and other outlets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s, will be shared with the Hillsborough Family Support Group, a cause close to the hearts of so many, especially anyone who cares about football and human rights – two of the dominant themes of Dangerous Score.

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How to Split Up and Stay in One Piece – surviving divorce and relationship breakdown

ISBN: 9781905410293

(Published in 2008)

AGAIN, this involved a massive research exercise. About 40 interviews with experts on the subject (lawyers, therapists, divorce coaches and relationship counsellors) and survivors of separation and divorce were carried out via phone and email and face-to-face.

It was certainly a different way to spend a summer and as a result I could, and indeed frequently do, bore for Britain on the subject on the airwaves and in print.

However, as a ‘recovered’ divorcee myself, albeit now in one extremely happy piece with David, my second and last husband, I was pretty much painfully aware of how courageous so many good people had been in reliving and relating their experiences as case studies for the book.

I knew it couldn’t have been easy for them to answer such personal questions as ‘Why did your marriage go wrong?’ and ‘What efforts did you make to hold it together?’ All were offered, and most took, the chance to use an alias, and I really don’t blame them. The fallout from a broken marriage or shattered relationship is bad enough without it then being exposed on a public stage.

Once more, I encountered some wonderful people while working on this book, from sad but bravely defiant young men who’d loved and lost, to older women gamely trying not to be bitter, to thoughtful, savvy divorce coaches with their wise words of advice for recovery.

No, I had no idea there were such people as divorce coaches either, but it shows what an ‘industry’ this whole business of relationships has become.

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Earning Money After You’ve Retired – inspirational ideas to supplement your pension

ISBN: 9781905410224

(Published 2007)

IN the course of putting together 50 or more case studies, it was so interesting (and not a little humbling) to encounter a woman of 85 eking out her pension by working as an exercise class tutor, a former Royal Navy officer gamely taking on the challenges presented by life as a classroom assistant, and a retired executive still passionate enough about his hobby of fish-keeping to turn it into a little money-spinner to pay for holidays and extras.

One fact that emerged very clearly from my work on this book is that people are staying younger for longer, and I made this point when speaking in various radio interviews. This interesting generation, really the first wave of the Baby Boomers, are happy to keep earning but without the hard slog they’ve put in for the past 40 years. They have looked for interesting and enjoyable ways to supplement their pension and it was no surprise to me that I found them, almost without exception, to be happy and fulfilled.

While most enjoy the financial benefits, one woman spoke from the heart when she said she had taken on part-time work so that she wouldn’t be taken for granted as an unpaid minder for her grandchildren. Truly a generation still with so much to give ­– and plenty to say. 

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What Shall We Do with Mother? How to manage when your elderly parent is dependent on you 

ISBN: 1905410034 9781905410033

(Published in 2006)

ONE of the toughest phases of life comes when you realise that one of  your parents is becoming dependent on you. This book follows the stories of other people who have been there before, and offers advice and ideas for coping with the guilt, the emotional stress, the conflicting pressures on your time, and the family tensions that can arise.

It was a revelation to research and to write this book, since it shone a light into a number of dark corners. It showed up the often woeful lack of joined-up thinking in the NHS, the plight of many old people in soulless hospital wards, and the quiet army of the great unsung who just knuckle down and get on with caring.

I was both humbled and heartened to discover so many good people willing to share their often heartbreaking stories with me in the hope their experiences would help others.

REVIEWS

From the Amazon website:

When I read this book I laughed and cried in equal measure. A wonderful book, which I wish Rosie Staal had written a few years ago when my mother first showed signs of being dependent on me. It make me see that I am far from alone, and there are many out there whose situation is far worse. The book also made me face up to my hidden fears about my mother’s health. It gave lots of useful advice, even for someone like me with a stubborn parent. I am now passing the book to my daughters for them to read – to give them ideas on how to cope if I become dependent on them when I’m elderly! (Five Stars – reviewed by ‘Lis’)

I must admit that when I first saw this book I thought it wouldn’t be relevant to me for a few years, my parents are only in their 60s and decisions about their care seem a long way off. But the more I read, the more I realised that it’s vital to consider the issues raised in this book before any problems arise and emotions take over. What makes this book essential reading is the relaxed, funny and incredibly clear way in which it deals with complex emotional and practical issues. It’s like having a crystal clear explanation of your options from a good friend who’s been there and done it. Highly recommended. (Five Stars – reviewed by ‘Cityboy’)

From the Nursing Standard

‘Cute grannies exist in story books but only occasionally in real life.’ This controversial assertion gives an idea of where this book is coming from. It is about the real problems that can emerge in the relationship between adult children and their ageing parents. The best feature of the book is the advice offered for everyday practical problems. The book has a distinctive style . . . you will be delighted with the alternative approach to exploring some knotty problems. (Five Stars – reviewed by Ruth Sander, University of Portsmouth)

From the Blackmore Vale Magazine

‘This book offers a lifeline to all those out there struggling against this peculiarly 21st century dilemma – you are not alone. I only wish it had been around when I was grappling with the problems thrown up by an increasingly dependent elderly parent.’ (Reviewed by Jackie Spiteri)

From Pharmaceutical Physician:

What Shall We Do With Mother? is that most ideal of self-help books – anonymous but totally at one with your thoughts. It fulfils a friend’s role and as a bedside read in those moments of despair will be invaluable. Even five years on [after my own experience of caring for a parent] the book has had the power to make me feel that some of the things I did and didn’t do were OK.’ (Reviewed by Liz Langley)

From the Daily Echo, Bournemouth

This book would have made things easier and made us realise, as our jaws clenched when my bewildered mother shouted again, that we were not alone. Rosie Staal takes several case histories: the recently bereaved, the stroke victim, the Alzheimer’s sufferer, the newly cantankerous, the generally frail and through their own experiences gives their carers a voice. Whatever your elderly parent’s condition they have become dependent and your roles are reversed. You have all the responsibility but as a ‘child’ you have no authority. It is difficult to ask your Mum to stop shouting. Thoughtful and detailed . . . and a compassionate and comforting read, it is a book that more and more of us are going to need. I wish I had had it last September.’ (Reviewed by Frances Perkins)

From The Western Morning News:

‘Stuffed with useful advice and practical guidance this paperback confronts every aspect of caring for a dependent parent.’ (Reviewed by Denise O’Leary)

Print and broadcast:

Features on the book have appeared in the Daily Express, the Sunday Post (Scotland), the Jersey Evening Post, The Western Morning News, the Western Gazette, Limited Edition magazine (Somerset), The Blackmore Vale Magazine, Wiltshire and Hampshire View, the Salisbury Journal, the Bournemouth Echo, the Vale Advertiser and other publications. I have also broadcast on Radio Europe, Radio Solent, Radio Wiltshire and Vale FM.

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