Sunday 15 August 1999
Mr Punch Audio Books pounds 14.99
The British abroad are often imperious: that chap's just a tripper, we say, and you are merely a tourist but I am a traveller. These tapes offer episodes from the writings of that third group of intrepid explorers, and a formidable bunch they are. Take Isabel Burton: she was dismayed by the first Central American cockroach, but she hitched up her skirts and swatted dozens before bedtime. Or Sir John Franklin, urging his men to eat up their old shoes - and any other bits of leather they could find - for sustenance in the Arctic.
It is a highly enjoyable collection. Some pieces are just dazzling, like a 16th-century sighting of the Tower of Babel, still standing high above the desert outside Baghdad; or Dr Livingstone's first impressions of the majesty of Victoria Falls. Light relief comes in the person of Kenneth Williams, wallowing in self-disgust and a surfeit of apricots and creme de menthe, in Crete in the 1950s. And the women are marvellous.
Generally well-performed, and linked by witty musical frolics, all this Gazette lacks is a list of contents. Still, that stops us from being tempted to skip Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, thus missing a magnificent envoi: "I should go on, but I have to send for my midwife."
First Love by Ivan Turgenev
Cover to Cover pounds 9.99
Vladimir is 16 when he spends a summer with his parents in the country and experiences a holiday romance. But this is Turgenev, so what might have been a mild flirtation becomes a grand, heart-rending romance, with a 21-year- old princess whose bosom seems tender and untroubled. The story is slight, though there is a nasty twist. Unfortunately, the publishers have chosen to give the secret away on the sleeve of the tape.
David Troughton reads with exceptional clarity and languid melancholy, but you can only really enjoy this if you throw away the sleeve immediately and resign yourself to a translation that, though it might be faithful to the Russian original, often strays from the embrace of English. I did try "shutting my eyes to what I foreboded before me ..." and not noticing that "overhead the sun was radiantly blue", but such behaviour risks "a sense of blissfulness that verges on imbecility".
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
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