In brief

19th March 2004 at 00:00
Up and Down in the Dales

By Gervase Phinn

Penguin pound;16.99

Gervase Phinn, the man named after a yoghurt (read the book and all will be revealed) opens with a story about a nun who doesn't know what a condom is.

Yeah, right, as they say. In my experience of teaching with council estate-based nuns in Birmingham I'd say that although nuns may not get up to much, they certainly know everything, as many a teenager trying to shock them has found out.

Mine were city nuns, whereas Phinn's are rural, which might make a difference. Still, I do have a sneaky feeling that Sister Marie-Ther se was winding him up. I really hope so, and I know Gervase Phinn would be delighted if this was the case.

He has an endless supply of good school stories; this is his fourth volume based on his career as an inspector in the Yorkshire Dales. There's lots of humour, of course (most of it well above condom level), but there are thoughtful passages too, including his account of meeting highly talented pupils in a selective school.

"Pupils of this calibre are sometimes a little daunting," says their teacher, "But I have always been of the opinion that teachers should show children the ropes and not be at all surprised if (the children) manage to climb higher than they."

There's background detail of life in his Dales cottage, and a battle to save the village school in which he and his wife take opposing sides. But it's the tales of children, parents and teachers that win you over, like the one about the little boy telling his class about the day he swallowed a marble.

"I was sitting on the toilet and there was a 'clunk' and I shouted downstairs, 'I've got my marble back!' and my dad said, 'Leave it alone!'

and . . ." What was that about the level of the humour?

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