Head Over Heels in the Dales, Gervase Phinn
Penguin, 321 pages
Gervase Phinn has been a school inspector in the Yorkshire Dales for three years. He enjoys his work, which gives him the opportunity to visit classrooms all over the county, and on these visits, he sees a fair bit of life. A quietly effective team of a teacher and the school Canon stop an angry, parent-driven campaign to relocate a disruptive boy who has suffered many years of neglect and ill-treatment. A brand-new teacher puts a cardboard box on his head, asks someone from the class to “turn the tv on”, and then tells a folktale, hoping that the power of television will help the students remember the story. Apathetic, rough, and uncooperative teenagers run riot in every one of their classes except for Religious Education, where they sit rapt, listening to the son of a Welsh Baptist preacher hold forth on the afflictions that befell Christ. Phinn never knows quite what to expect when he walks through a school’s doors in the morning, but he has a fairly good idea of how things will unfold when he returns to his office later in the day.
Phinn works with three other school inspectors: the mercurial Sidney, the wittily Welsh David, and Geraldine, who is likeable, brilliant, and intensely private. When their boss, Harold, announces his retirement, Phinn considers applying for the position, even though his fiancée cautions that the extra work might be a burden in the early days of their life together.
Filled with the landscape and the people of the Dales, this warm, funny, and autobiographical novel is often compared to the writing of James Herriot, and would also appeal to readers of Peter Mayle and Bill Bryson.