Book No 1 (2016) : Call of the Wild

Call of the WildTo celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband and I stayed in The Scotsman Hotel in Edinburgh. It used to be the head office of the eponymous Scottish daily newspaper. And the connection with Guy Grieve’s autobiographical book ‘Call of the Wild‘ is….? Well, Grieve was working as the Head of Strategic Marketing at the paper, but becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the daily grind. Although happily married with a young son, he yearned for freedom, open spaces. Having formulated a plan to travel to Alaska where he would build a cabin, then live in it for the winter, Guy approached his boss. Grieve told Iain Martin he was quitting his job, and wondered whether the Editor would be willing to commission a regular column from him. Despite thinking the plan a little more than foolhardy, the hack agreed. And the rest, as they say, is history. Soon, the adventurer had landed at Galena, a tiny village on the Yukon.

After some difficulties with locating a suitable plot, but with the help of some local contacts, Grieve finally started work on constructing his cabin. Now my DIY skills are to all intents and purposes, non-existent: I famously axed my hand whilst taking my Girl Guide Camping Permit and a bow saw is about as much use to me as bicycle is to a fish. So I was surprised to discover myself enthralled by the author’s descriptions of the actual building of his winter home. Felling and moving trees, cutting logs and piecing them together like a massive 3D jigsaw, I could visualise the whole process. What Grieve had to accomplish in order to survive, his encounters with wildlife, descriptions of the Yukon and mastering a husky team, are  all fascinating

Grieve writes with a clarity and self-deprecating humour which I found enchanting. He says himself that he survived his time in Alaska largely due to humility, and this comes across so clearly. Although determined and focused, Guy acknowledges his limitations, accepts help gratefully and is unself-conscious about his feelings of despair and loneliness, as well as the more uplifting times. This insight, combined with the unlikely subject matter, makes this an absorbing read.

Actually, this book has acquired something of a mythical status in our house. It is the only book, other than Michael Morpurgo’s ‘Shadow‘, that my now 14-year old son has ever read voluntarily. As the parents of reluctant teenage readers will attest, ‘Call of the Wild‘ needs no other endorsement.

Book No 5 (2015) : Sea Legs

sea legsThe Inner Hebridean Isle of Mull captivated me when we visited – the sea, the wildlife, the light, the people. The world is a vast place, there are opportunities to see so many different places, but I am always drawn back to Scotland. It was odd then, to read a book which begins with Guy Grieve describing his yearning to leave the place which makes my heart sing. Mull was cold, wet and dreary. Guy and his wife, Juliet, dreamt up a plan to buy a boat and sail the world ‘for a long time’ with their two young sons. I certainly have dreams like that, but the Grieves turned their kitchen table reverie into reality. Neither had more than a rudimentary knowledge of sea-sailing.  Undaunted, they re-mortgaged their house, bought ‘Forever‘ (a 41-ft Hans Christian sailboat) and collected her in Bonaire, Venezuela, planning to sail her back to Mull.

Despite my love of the sea and all things nautical (maybe its a Pisces thing), I am no sailor. I feel nauseous on a pedalo and have suffered from debilitating seasickness which honestly made me think I was going to die. So when Guy Grieve describes the ‘yellowness’ which reduces him to a snivelling, exhausted wreck, I was right there with him. His wife and children suffer too; Guy manages to overcome his low mood and push on through the waves. Accepting help and guidance from his more knowledgeable father-in-law and others, Guy learns to skipper ‘Forever‘ and discover the ways of the sea. After months exploring the Caribbean before heading up the East coast of America, Guy parts company with Juliet and the boys as he prepares to take the boat across the Atlantic Ocean to their Scottish home. The tension in the book increases as the prospect of this major voyage hangs over Guy and his chosen companion, a 70-year old diabetic with poor vision and a limp.

I like a man who can admit he has made mistakes, and throughout ‘Sea Legs‘, Guy acknowledges his errors, some of them grave and even life-threatening. He writes with an honesty which is all the more impressive given the author’s reputation as a real-life adventurer; he is not above being humbled by those with knowledge to share. Grieve’s willingness to listen and learn, his overwhelming instinct to protect his family, a keen sense of humour and descriptive powers which truly evoke the hardships and rewards of a major sea journey, made this a thoroughly enjoyable read. Plus, the beautiful cover is worth framing.

Incidentally, Guy and his wife now run a successful scallop-diving business on Mull; The Ethical Shellfish Company. He is clearly a man of action, but, unlike the real Action Man, Mr Grieve seems to be blessed with equal quantities of brain and brawn – with a healthy dose of humility thrown in!