Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Train of thought

There's a cocoon-like cosiness to a railway journey in optimum (clean, uncrowded) conditions.

No intriguing interruptions or overheard conversations on a recent journey to Oxford.

Instead, the luxury of 'blank space' between the connectedness of the rest of the day. Disengagement. Peace.

The sense of separation increased by the silvery sheen of flooded fields and the sudden uplift of a hundred gulls as the train rattles past.

Time to relish the new 'Scotland Street' novel from Alexander McCall Smith, the fifth of his witty commentaries on contemporary life in Edinburgh's well-heeled New Town.

Originally published in short daily instalments in The Scotsman, the books follow a diverse bunch of characters as they negotiate the chances and choices of city life.

Smith's eye is kindly, but gimlet sharp - the books are definitely 'comfort' reading, but not too comfortable.... Watch out for the barbs.

Readers vary in their nominations for 'most loved' and 'most loathed' characters.

I have to admit to a soft spot for poor Irene Pollock - the wildly misguided uber-mother whose gifted six-year-old son is the focus of what she terms the 'Bertie project' - 'advanced' child-rearing taken to gloriously ludicrous extremes. Poor Bertie.

But then there's Angus Lordie, Domenica, hapless Matthew, the egregious Bruce, Pat and, my favourite, self-educated, unlucky-in-love cafe proprietess Big Lou....

More info at Alexander McCall Smith.

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