Memory-journeys, in life or letters, can be perilous: the temptation to shed tears or pour out lies is huge. The best defense is to be a genius, like Proust, or blissfully ironic, like Harold Nicolson in Some People. The latter is the ostensible model for Parkinson's eleven portraits of various odd fish who set him swimming in his formative and later years. The figures include scholars, artist, historians, a Prime Minister, and the author's father--all nonconformists of one stamp or another; quaint, strong, individualists whom Parkinson is ""glad to have known."" A more critical eye would have served these vignettes better, with lesser attention to scrapbook fact, for these people are rarely interesting in themselves, and only dimly sparkle in Parkinson's stately, if amiable, prose. Here he differs fatally from Nicolson, who treated biographical data with an almost cavalier jollity, fondly mocking his wonderful clique of passionate eccentrics, letting them bloom in fine, exotic fashion, with surroundings to match. The Parkinson terrain--Edwardian England, Emmanuel College, the Channel Islands, even Singapore-- passes in faint colors, occasionally sparked by a witty phrase or neat observation. Intelligence, a sympathetic understanding of conservative values, some aphoristic bite (usually skewering modernist or bureaucratic nonsense) are the underlying rewards. By the author of Parkinson's Law which readily assures a readership.