Michael Jecks (Author, Morris dancer)
is a brilliant story. A "Last of the Summer Wine" for students in the
1970s. The life and dramatic exploits of a farmer's son from Devon is the basis
of the book, and his attempts at conquering the opposite sex (always thwarted)
provide a great deal of tension and humour.
A gentle, amusing, delightful tale told with great skill, this book is a delight!
This is a book that puts, and
keeps, a smile on your face. It
keeps your interest if you like to sit and read books straight through but, with
each chapter relating a self-contained incident, it’s also ideal to read a bit
at a time. It would make perfect
bedtime reading with its gentle humour and well-drawn characters giving you that
warm, feel-good factor at the end of a hard day.
Whilst the students in this
book are a little more civilised and hard-working than those I remember, they
make wonderfully likeable characters and keep you feeling nostalgic about the
“old days”. If you lived through those days then you must read it.
Like me, every chapter will have you saying, “Yes, I remember when
…”. If you dance or are
involved in folk music it will remind you of the days when folk was fashionable
and, if you just want a book that you can sit back and enjoy from cover to
cover, then this is one for you.
This book has definitely solved my Christmas present list. Go on, read it, I’ll guarantee you’ll do so with a smile on your face and, if you’re of that certain age, with a warm glow of nostalgia.
Janice Ranton, Sacramento, California
was fascinating for someone like me, a former teacher, to hear about
going to college in Wales. The author obviously did attend college in
Wales, a country not many of us on this side of the Pond are very
familiar with. It was a delightful read, full of singing and dancing without
the intrusive emphases of so many novels featuring money, sports,
gratuitous sex and crime. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
ColumbyneDo you remember what it was like to be a student in Wales in the 1970s? Colin M. Andrews most certainly does, and with great charm his novel recounts three years in the life of a young aspiring undergraduate teacher. For me, episode after episode of delightfully written and often hilarious narrative bring back those times better than any photographs. For anyone who wonders what life was like at that time, this is the book to read! It set me wondering about how different things were then; some things have improved enormously, others have not, but above all I felt that the book vividly depicts how much our lives then were filled with simple, honest-to-goodness fun. The story rolls on, almost like a trip around Wales, and I found that the author never allowed it to stray too far off track. If you are after a "holiday" from all the crime novels and doom and gloom currently on sale, this book makes a refreshing change. Read it!
Alison Frosdick (in Folk London)
Colin Andrews' first novel, A Matter of Degree, is set at a teacher training college in North Wales during the mid 1970s.
Colin cleverly catches college life with its segregated accommodation and how to get around it, petty politics of clubs and societies and the sometimes bizarre happenings encountered during teaching practice. The story is written through the eyes of Robert Kiddecott as he works his way through 3 years of college and charts his friendship and escapades with Jake, with whom he shares accommodation. Liaisons with female students abound but, although laced with innuendo, there is no actual 'sex'.
Dabbling into Morris and performing a rag week mummers play are a few examples of the 'folky' influences that interweave throughout the tale, often to good effect. The formation of a Border Morris side gives the opportunity for the group to supplement their bar bills and have a camping holiday together.
This is not a 'weighty tome' and, if you expecting an academic take on folk music and folk arts, this is not the book for you. This is a jolly romp with believable characters who will have you smiling with their gentle humour and student shenanigans.
Take it to the beach or save it for a rainy day ... a delightful tale!
Poppy (Posted on Amazon.com)
This book was a pleasure to read. It is very well written and cleverly crafted to take the reader through many amusing and interesting incidents from start to finish. It is light and entertaining, full of useful imaginative descriptions and charmingly real characters. I was sorry to finish it.
Barry Goodman (Retired Headmaster, Morris Federation President)
Andrews’ first novel, A Matter of Degree, cleverly evokes life in a
teacher training college in the mid-seventies, from the queues for the one
public phone (no mobiles then!) and the highly segregated college accommodation
(including some familiar ways to circumvent it) to the petty politics of clubs
and societies and the sometimes bizarre experiences encountered on Teaching
like me, you trained to be a teacher in those days, much of what Colin writes
will cause a wave of nostalgia to flow over you again and again as you read this
account of student life. Rob, Jake,
Dan, Benji, Sunny, Kissy and the others are very believable characters, and
their adventures, often caused by the hare-brained schemes of ring-leader Jake,
are well-written and amusing.
own interest in Morris dancing and the folk arts manifests itself in some of the
friends’ activities – the folk club, the mummers’ play and the Border
Morris team – the latter of which helps to supplement their bar expenses as
well as giving them an opportunity for a camping holiday together.
There is plenty here to entertain, and each chapter stands very well on its own, so the book can be read in chunks, rather than as a straight-through narrative, if that’s what you prefer – though I must admit that I was reluctant to put it down until I had reached the satisfactory (for Rob at least!) conclusion. A fine first novel, and one that I shall recommend to my friends.
Trevor Monson (University of Wales graduate, folk dancer)
With all my clothing and other worldly goods packed into two suitcases and a rucksack, I was leaving home in Hull to attend “The University of South Wales and Monmouthshire” (as it was then called). As the train travelled west along the Welsh side of the Bristol Channel, everyone suddenly started looking out of the carriage windows - and I saw why - the train was passing under the Severn Bridge which had opened less than a year ago. This started people talking, but the conversation soon changed to the terrible disaster at Aberfan, also less than a year ago.
After I reached my destination in Cardiff, I found my digs and then the next day went to the university to register for my course. This was something I had forgotten all about, but was vividly brought back to mind as I read the first chapter of Colin Andrews’s book “A Matter of Degree” -his debut novel. His description of Fresher’s Week also coincided with my experiences that week. but unlike him, I sought out the Welsh Folk Dance Society as that was the only folk dancing I could find. I had previously been a member of an English dance display team that Mike Waterson (of the famous Waterson’s folk song family) had started, and I wanted to continue dancing after changing countries. Although Colin doesn’t admit (in his book) to joining the WFDS, this is where I met him, and our paths overlapped for a year.
Looking back, there were quite a few things we did together. Learning new Welsh dances and ‘dancing them out’, going to parties and singing with some superb singers and musicians. He even took some of us out in his Ford Prefect car (a lovely 1950’s model with real leather seats, which only had 3 gears, but still managed to get up the Welsh hills with 5 of us in it). On one trip to Barry Island while we played cricket on the beach we watched the smoke and flames as many of the chalets at the nearby Butlins holiday camp were destroyed by fire. I shared some experiences with Colin at University but he doesn’t mention them - his stories are far more interesting. They weave the threads of what happened to Robert Kiddecott as he worked his way through university and teaching practice, from the day he arrived at University until the day he gained his degree.
The stories which are all believable, are written through the eyes of Rob as he is “forced” into co-operating with the unexpected ideas of Jake - a fellow student with whom he shares accommodation.. The incidents include amongst others organising a mumming play to make money for Rag Week, through to starting up a Morris team (which obviously dance at local pubs!) ..should keep the folk dancers amongst us happy. His story runs through the holidays - but I won’t mention what happens as I don’t want to spoil the suspense he builds up! And of course, also included are Rob’s liaisons with female students and acquaintances.
Before that though, the story tells of life in the Student’s Union building - the curries I got so used to consuming (student’s basic food - together with a pint of Brains) and also the student newspaper and the folk song club. And then stories about the inter-college eisteddfod - an event that a student going to a Welsh University college could never forget. My only gripe is that his book tells of Rob winning the international folk song competition with Jake, instead of our (Colin and mine) Welsh Folk Dance team winning the Welsh Folk Dance competition for the first time ever! Far more prestigious?
This is a book well worth reading - especially if you were a student in any college or university as it is bound to bring back many (forgotten?) memories. I hope Colin has more ideas hidden away that could lead to a further book. Will Rob tell us more now he is in the big wide world? I hope so.
Alan S. Blood (Author, former Morris dancer & teacher)
wishing to relive those halcyon student days before our country became distinctly sourer, must read and become
totally immersed in this, generally
happy-go-lucky novel. The Author
recreates life when people still mattered in a delightful world before we
allowed technology to replace unadulterated humanity which frequently
incorporated raucous fun because it usually seemed “like a good idea at the
time” ! Nowhere are these values
more clearly illustrated than on higher education campuses whereby, apart from
those sad souls who preferred to go on political ‘demos’, the vast majority
of students just worked hard and played hard – living their youthfulness to
the full ! Invariably, this
involved copious quantities of beer which was often resulted in spontaneous
‘sing-songs’ of rock/pop or folk music, or otherwise, in College ‘Union’
bars and pubs.
own College days of the late 60’s were just a shade before the early 1970’s
of this book – but the ingredients were just
the same. They remained so
until the 80’s ‘rot’ transformed Britain from one kind of place to another
– where “kill or be killed” seemed
to replace compassion and fun. ‘
A Matter Of Degree’ recaptures a student sense of that earlier British
‘wartime spirit’ of sometimes cheeky naughtiness (without any harm meant)
and of tolerance towards other people. Above
all, it shows young people who interact using social skills that still engage
with real life, without a ‘social network’, surfing the net, texting, or
living on a mobile phone ! How
much nicer and more natural it all was, then.
a few tears, the inevitable boy-girl relationships, with ‘one-night-stands’,
romances and break- ups are still conducted with a ‘degree’ of decorum and,
apart from frequent innuendo, there is no actual sex – although there is
ultimately a huge ‘twist’ !
All of the razzamatazz of earlier University life is here.
The novel richly features rag stunts, parties, ‘bops’ and Morris
Dances as the hero ‘Rob Kiddecott’ and his Student Teacher mates are dragged
through one escapade after another – chiefly instigated by one of them -
‘Jake’, a larger than life coloured lad.
My only slight criticism of this unputdownable book is its tendency to
ramble in a few places – when you are itching to find out what develops next.
Overall, the novel is a nostalgic romp. Enjoy !
Mecki Testroet (Folk dancer, former teacher)
reading "A Matter of Degree" thoroughly enjoyable. It was easy to love
and cry with the characters, and I thought Colin Andrews captured the easy going
early 70s very well. The students get up to some predictable and some less
common antics and schemes. all very good hearted.
The book will strike a chord with anyone who has fond memories of their student days. There isn't quite a laugh a minute, but there are plenty about. So if you want an upbeat book to help you over a rainy day or are planning a trip to the beach, take this book along and enjoy!
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I thought the quality of writing and characterisation was excellent. I was thoroughly gripped by the story and the students' exploits.
Brian Tasker (Former
Squire of the Morris Ring)The author is an experienced singer, dancer and musician. He lives in Devon and is a member of
the Exeter Morris Men and Winkleigh Morris, a mixed border side. “A Matter of Degree”,
describes the experiences of a young man as he follows a three year course at a teacher
training college in Wales in the early 1970s.
The story chronicles the various activities of the central character and his student friends. It reads very much like an Enid Blyton Famous Five story for adults, but without the dog. Folk is not a dominant theme but it is prominent. The friends get involved in folk singing, perform a mummers play and form a mixed border side. Colin’s experience has enabled him to present an authentic picture of the highs and lows of being involved in a morris side. When challenged on the issue of blacking up the students deal with the problem in a very articulate and effective way which is very impressive.
Colin writes fluently and at length but with little in the way literary depth, so I do not expect the book to be shortlisted for the Man Booker prize for fiction. Having said that, I enjoyed it and found it very readable. Ideal for the plane or the beach.
Comment on review by Pippa Noble in English Dance & Song
It would be unreasonable to expect everyone to react the same way to a book, and I accept that A Matter of Degree did not appeal to Pippa Noble. It's also interesting which particular incidents strike a chord with different readers. This, however, is only negative review I've received either written (as above) or verbally from the many people who have purchased the book. She claims that it is a personalised account of my own experiences with names changed to protect the innocent. It is most definitely not ! Apart from a couple of incidents directly based on personal experience, and a few other personal experiences which provided the inspiration for action, the novel is 95% total fiction. None of the characters could in any way be identified with people I knew at college, as my good friends Gwilym & Carol Davies could confirm.