The New European - - Eurofile | Books -

When Chris Grayling awarded the multi-mil­lion pound ferry con­tract for a pos­si­ble no-deal Brexit to a com­pany that had no ships and had never sailed so much as a pa­per boat on a pond be­fore, the weak­est, most in­com­pe­tent govern­ment we’ve ever had was al­most of­fi­cially giv­ing up our sta­tus as a great mar­itime na­tion. Here are five books to re­store your faith in Britain’s nau­ti­cal her­itage.


Cyril Jolly (Pop­py­land Pub­lish­ing, £11.95)

The vol­un­teers who crew the RNLI lifeboats around the coasts of Britain and Ire­land are all ex­tra­or­di­nary peo­ple but in the long his­tory of the ser­vice Henry Blogg stands out as ar­guably the great­est of them all. A mem­ber of the Cromer lifeboat crew in Nor­folk from 1894 un­til his re­tire­ment in 1947, Blogg was re­spon­si­ble for sav­ing 873 lives. Cyril Jolly’s bi­og­ra­phy of this ex­tra­or­di­nary man was first pub­lished in 1958 but re­mains a time­lessly bril­liant ac­count of an ex­tra­or­di­nary life.


Tom Nan­col­las (Par­tic­u­lar Books, £16.99)

In these days of GPS and radar it’s hard to imag­ine just how cru­cial light­houses have been to mariners around our coasts over the cen­turies. Here Tom Nan­col­las tells the sto­ries of eight of the more re­mote bea­cons around these is­lands, us­ing them to im­part the wider tale of the peo­ple who de­signed, built and in­hab­ited them in one of man’s few tan­gi­ble tri­umphs against the worst of na­ture.


Rose Ge­orge (Por­to­bello Books, £9.99) The Amer­i­can edi­tion of Ge­orge’s bril­liant and orig­i­nal travel nar­ra­tive is

only ac­tual bor­der the Leavers seek­ing to take back con­trol re­ally needed to worry about on a prac­ti­cal level but the one whose ex­is­tence seemed to come as a com­plete sur­prise to most of them, no­tably those hold­ing rel­e­vant min­is­te­rial posts. You’d think they’d have at least a ba­sic idea of what the bor­der is, es­pe­cially given that it was Britain which put it there in the first place, but the lev­els of ig­no­rance and pompous blus­ter dis­played so far are no less galling for be­ing en­tirely ex­pected.

Whatever side of the Brexit di­vide you oc­cupy Diar­maid Fer­riter’s The Bor­der: The Legacy of a Cen­tury of An­glo-ir­ish Pol­i­tics, pub­lished in Fe­bru­ary by Pro­file, looks like es­sen­tial read­ing. While I fear it may be too late to ed­u­cate some of West­min­ster’s dim­mer bulbs, it prom­ises called Ninety Per­cent Of Ev­ery­thing, in recog­ni­tion of the fact that nearly all of what we wear, eat and work with or on ar­rives here by sea. The book re­counts the au­thor’s five­week voy­age from Felixs­towe to Sin­ga­pore on board a giant Maersk con­tainer ship and is packed with star­tling facts and ter­rific anec­dotes. A valu­able re­minder of the im­por­tance of our ports, our ships and the peo­ple that staff and crew them.

NEL­SON: THE SWORD OF AL­BION John Sug­den (Bod­ley Head, £25) This is the sec­ond part of Sug­den’s ex­haus­tive bi­og­ra­phy of Ho­ra­tio Nel­son and cov­ers the fa­mous, now al­most myth­i­cal vic­to­ries at the Nile, Copen­hagen and fi­nally Trafal­gar. For all the glorious rep­u­ta­tion of the Ad­mi­ral, Sug­den doesn’t shy away from his flaws and frail­ties to pro­vide what will surely en­dure as the de­fin­i­tive bi­og­ra­phy of one of this coun­try’s most im­por­tant fig­ures. You don’t have to have read the first vol­ume A Dream Of Glory but it might help.

ERE­BUS: THE STORY OF A SHIP Michael Palin (Ran­dom House, £20) Scott’s doomed mis­sion to the Antarc­tic has led to Britain’s po­lar his­tory be­ing dom­i­nated by the South Pole but turn­ing the fo­cus north­ward re­veals a le­gion of in­cred­i­ble sto­ries, not least Sir John Franklin’s doomed 1845 jour­ney to find the fa­bled North-west

Pas­sage. In Ere­bus,

Sir Michael Palin tells the story through the prism of Franklin’s ship in a thrilling, mov­ing and never less than eru­dite ac­count of a flawed but am­bi­tious ex­pe­di­tion.

to be an eru­dite and en­light­en­ing read from one of these is­lands’ lead­ing pop­u­lar his­to­ri­ans and clear­est voices on the bor­der is­sue. Fer­riter has been writ­ing im­pas­sioned pieces in the press plead­ing with Bri­tish politi­cians to un­der­stand the com­plex­i­ties and cir­cum­stances pe­cu­liar to this par­tic­u­lar in­ter­na­tional di­vi­sion and the book, which tells the story of the bor­der from par­ti­tion in the 1920s to the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions, prom­ises to be a valu­able ad­di­tion to the de­bate, al­beit one in­fused with a hint of pyrrhic melan­choly.

Whether we’re seek­ing light in the dark­ness of the cur­rent months or seek­ing to throw light on the dark­ness of the com­ing months, the shelves of our book­shops are prob­a­bly the best place to start. Happy hunt­ing, happy read­ing.

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