Saturday, February 23, 2013

Walking for miles

I did the 45 miles Ten Tors challenge on Dartmoor ten years ago (yeesh, ten years). It was hard but a lot of fun and I definitely developed an appreciation of the simple pleasure of walking. Some mornings as I walk to the tube I get an itch to just walk straight past the station and keep on going, just to see what's around the corner (I know what's there, it's Wandsworth, but you know what I mean).

I never do, though, I turn into the tube and stand with all the other travellers staring out the window as we rattle into central London. It was with a mix of envy and awe then that I read The Places In Between by excellent person Rory Stewart who walked straight across Afghanistan a few weeks after the fall of the Taliban in 2002 (the same year I walked 45 miles on Dartmoor).

Of course such a walk is sheer madness, except Stewart can speak the dialect and had already walked across Iran and  India and Nepal and other nations before this leg of his adventure, so he had a bit of advantage over the wanderlust of a South West London walker.

Furthermore, the book is a brilliantly vivid, engrossing account of a trip few would ever take, or want to take, and has a lovely mix of hard, straight talking language about the people he meets and the difficulties he faces, and descriptive brilliance of the strange and inhospitable nature of the walk, the weather (lots of snow) and the sights he encounters, such as the Minaret of Jam. Even better, though, is the mix of history he weaves, revealing fascinating insights into the cultures that have shaped a nation that remains so utterly unknowable to the west.

Even better, he buys a dog to walk with him, pictured above, who proves as much as a character as any of the Kalashnikov-touting, religious zealots he meets along the way. A much recommended book. And don't just take my word for it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Night buses, men in boats and toast-munching toads

I read Three Men in a Boat last week. It was written in 1889 and yet remains genuinely funny and relatable all these years later. There’s a bit at the start when Jerome Klapka Jerome wonders if people in the year 2000 will find their everyday trinkets of interest, value and worth. Which we do mostly. Just struck me as interesting. Apparently the book sold so well and was so popular people in other countries would put his name on books to trick people into buying them. 

Another nice aside, his publisher said, with reference to how much in royalties the book was earning for JKJ: "I cannot imagine what becomes of all the copies of that book I issue. I often think the public must eat them." Which I think is almost as funny as some of the lines in the book. The book is up there with Lucky Jim, also hilarious. 

I was sat on the night bus last night, somewhat drunk, and fell into that maudlin state of staring out the window as raindrops rolled down trying to reach some great thought, or insight or revelation that I was sure was lurking in the dim recesses of my brain. Something about life, or love or work or the like. Of course, I never captured it, if it was there at all: I think the revelation is there are no drunk-night-bus revelations to be had.

However, the event put me in mind of this wonderful excerpt from The Wind in the Willows, a far better book than any dramatisation has ever managed to capture, they all seem to cheapen and ruin it. 

“But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties.” 

My other favourite line in WITW is: 

Toad sat up on end once more, dried his eyes, sipped his tea and munched his toast, and soon began talking freely about himself, and the house he lived in, and his doings there, and how important he was, and what a lot his friends thought of him.