Book review: Out of the Woods but not Over the Hill by Gervase Phinn

Retired teacher Gervase Phinn has grasped the nettle that is old age...and managed to take out its painful sting.

Fast approaching his three score years and 10, the doughty Yorkshireman and best-selling author is not yet ready to settle for a stroll to the pub, a game of dominoes and a snooze in the armchair.

Instead, he is one of a new generation of ‘oldies with attitude’ who take no interest in growing old and are more likely to spend their children’s inheritance enjoying life rather than brooding about slowing down.

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Out of the Woods but not Over the Hill is not just an entertaining memoir but a lively and lovely selection of Phinn’s personal reflections which create an eclectic mix of social comment, autobiographical anecdotes, idiosyncratic musings and random observations.

Childhood, schooldays, family life, the world of work, the English language and his home county all come under the watchful eye of a man who was born to be ‘sir’.

Phinn’s greatest gift is his sense of humour and growing up with a name like Gervase in the tough pit town of Rotherham ensured that he quickly developed a love of the absurd.

Rotherham has always had a bit of an image problem. ‘Rotherham doesn’t have a twin town,’ goes the old joke. ‘It has a suicide pact with Scunthorpe.’

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Contrary to popular opinion, however, Phinn recalls that his childhood there was a happy one and he grew up surrounded by people with an unflagging generosity, sharp humour and a shrewd insight into human nature.

It stood him in good stead when he left the local secondary modern school for boys as an ambitious, studious and idealistic young man.

Armed with the immortal words of his grandmother – ‘Don’t take life too seriously, after all nobody comes out of it alive’ – he set out to be a teacher.

And it was in the classrooms of Yorkshire that he found the inspiration and the stories that have helped him forge a new career as a writer.

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If you haven’t already comes across Phinn’s delightful series of books about his life as a teacher and school inspector in ‘God’s own country’, then in a strange and peverse kind of way, Out of the Woods but not Over the Hill could be a good place to start.

Because here he captures, with humour, affection and an endearing hint of senior years grumpiness, the essence of a well-lived and fascinating life.

And looking back might just make you look forward to catching up on the rest of his story...

(Hodder & Stoughton, hardback, £14.99)

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