It has been said that Time heals all wound. With that in mind, it is easy to look back on the events of past with a certain degree of nostalgia or romanticism. The Great Western Railway (GWR) was an organisation that demanded staff loyalty, and for the most part earned the grudging respect of their servants.
Tim Bryan manages to avoid romanticism in this survey of some the jobs people were employed in by the company. The diversity of the roles in the various operational areas of the Great Western are truly amazing – from manufacturing to clearance diving. These were the days when occupational health and safety were in their infancy; death or permanent disability at work was a very real possibility. It wasn’t without reason that the Railway’s Workshops at Swindon was one of the best prosthetic makers in the country.
"All in a Day’s Work" doesn’t just concentrate on the glamour of the footplate, the place that every young boy wanted to work, and possibly the highest status blue collar job of the time. Being an engine driver may have been a top job, but it came after a hell of an apprenticeship – at least five years as an cleaner and a minimum of ten years working as a fireman. Once a fireman had made it on the "Top Link" it was back to the shunting links as driver.
I can’t say that this is no-hold’s barred view, but it does give us some idea of the day-to-day pressures of life on the GWR.
I must admit that I started reading this with very fond reminiscences of Neil’s co-authored “Good Omens” (Terry Pratchett being the other author). In Stardust we have a reasonably fast-paced, vividly realised fairy tale centred around Tristran Thorn – and as a fairy tale it is a good work. Tristran, in an attempt to gain the love of the most beautiful girl in the village, goes through to the Faerie lands beyond The Wall in search of a fallen star. Passing through The Wall is not something to be done lightly, in fact the Villagers guard the gap to ensure that no-one passes.
After a diet of fully-fleshed out, sometimes flabby fantasy, this brief work comes as a pleasant surprise. “Stardust” is a real page-turner, the disappointing thing is that Neil telegraphs the coming events, leaving us few if any surprises. That said I am looking forward to reading more of Neil’s work, I just don’t know that Stardust will be a “keeper”.
There is no doubt about it, this is definitely Terry Pratchett. “Making Money” is the second novel in the Moist von Lipwig series, and as expected Moist gets fleshed out a bit more, and in the process is groomed for more roles in the future. But there is something missing, I just can’t put my finger on what. The gut-wrenchingly funny, laugh out-loud moments are just not there. The surreal as been replaced by rational logic, and the clever wordplay almost non-existent.
So what? It’s still Terry Pratchett, almost every page has an absolute gem. Lord Vetenari – the scheming totalitarian ruler of Ankh-Morpork – and it is an absolute joy to see him in action. However some of the some of the “Watch” series characters are there solely as “generics” – Captain Carrot and Commander Vimes come across a being particularly flat. However some old favourites like Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler and Mrs Cake appear in glorious technicolor; and of course what would Discworld be without DEATH making “his” obligatory appearance.
The focus seems to have shifted from the madcap invention of the early books. Terry, through Vetenari, now seems intent on a modernisation program for the city and takes us along for the the ride, uncovering snippets of previously unguessed detail in the process. All in all, I will still be hanging-out for the next Discworld instalment.