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Geoscientist Online

Dear Saffron

Hallett SaffronWe are all told sometime 'You ought to write a book about your life and times'. Dear Saffron is that book for Don Hallett, but written in an innovative approach in the form of 73 letters (chapters) to be read by his granddaughter, Saffron. The scene is 'One day, while rummaging through the attic, you come across a trunk which belonged to your grandfather. You open it and find amongst other items a bundle of letters, addressed to 'Dear Saffron'. Intrigued, you begin to read.'

Dear Saffron progresses chronologically from letter 1, with family history of grandparents, parents and their route to Halifax, Yorkshire, where Don was born in 1939, via his schooling, university (Durham) and doctorate (University College London), up to letter 73, 2016 when the book was written.

The letters cover the various jobs Don had as he progressed in upstream petroleum exploration geology. These included Esso Exploration in Senegal, Sonatrach in Algeria, BNOC on North Sea exploration and Chief Geologist of its privatised successor Britoil, then Sirte Oil Company, Libya, 1987-1997 and finally as a Consultant Petroleum Geologist, specialising on Libya.

It is an absorbing personal story including friends, family, marriages, births, deaths, tours, holidays and more, by an author who has the ability to paint an image in a sentence or two. His style is to start at one point then move to other points, but the whole letter fits together. We learn of the reasons for the author's career moves, including the ramifications of the break-up of Britoil by Margaret Thatcher, and the personalities of some of the bosses.

There are many fascinating observations of what caught the author's eye, covering history, geography, places, travel and people such as Gaddafi. A search on Wikipedia could flesh-out many of the points. However, Don states (p399) 'most of my letters have been about places and events but very little about my interests and beliefs'. I agree: the early letters gave good pictures of Algeria and Libya, but I would have liked to have seen the reasons for the later trips, maps of the places and geography, more on the petroleum geology, Don's professional views on what he actually did and what gave him reward. But ultimately, Dear Saffron is the autobiography of Don Hallett.

Did I enjoy the book? Yes. I was left feeling that I would have liked my grandfather to leave me such a treasure trunk. I found it a gentle read suitable for bedtime, a long journey or airport wait.

Reviewed by Richard Dawe


DEAR SAFFRON, by Don Hallett, 2018. Published by: Little Henry Publishing, 13 York House, Courtlands, Sheen Road, Richmond TW10 5BD, UK 407pp. (pbk.) ISBN: 978-1-5272-2273-1 List price: £18.00 W: www.waterstones.com