Monday, 5 November 2012

Narrow Dog to Carcassonne

Now that R.I.P.VII is at end (it went too quickly!) my thoughts begin to stray towards a return to reading some non-fiction. It's been a while. I read quite a lot of non-fiction at the start of the year, a lot of it connected to the youngest Mitford sister, Deborah. I haven't finished with that family yet, not by a long chalk and intend to get something from the library about the other sisters, possibly at the beginning of next year. My first love where non-fiction is concerned though is travel writing. Why, I've no idea. Possibly I've always been fascinated by other lands and cultures and I've speculated before that that even explains my love of science fiction and fantasy, especially the kind that explores new planets or alternative cultures in fantasy: it's all a kind of travel odyssey for me.

Anyway. I don't read heaps of travel memoirs but once I get into the habit again there's often no stopping me. Eric Newby is a new discovery (for me anyway) but I have old favourites: Bill Bryson, I would read his version of the phone book quite frankly, Will Randall with his teaching exploits in different countries, Anne Mustoe, cycling around the world, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Gerald Durrell collecting animals in far flung places and so on.

A newish discovery for me has been Terry Darlington. I read my first book by him back at the end of last year. It was called Narrow Dog to Indian River and in fact I think it's the last of the three books he's written so far. Terry and his wife, Monica, are a retired couple who own a canal boat commonly known in this country as a 'narrow' boat. They have a whippet named Jim and the three of them go on various trips both around the UK and abroad. The Indian River book charted their ambitious trip down the eastern seaboard of the United States. I read it as part of my American challenge and never did blog about it, but it was an excellent read. So, when I saw Narrow Dog to Carcassonne in the library the other day I nabbed with it with some enthusiasm.

It starts with Terry and Monica being persuaded by some friends to take their narrow boat across the English Channel to France. The friends also have a narrow boat and the crazy idea is that the two boats could be strapped together and off they go. In the event the friends drop out at the last minute but Terry and Monica decide to go ahead with their plans, not really realising how very dangerous it is for canal boats on the open sea. First of all they have to get to London from Stone, near Stoke-on-Trent, and the first third of the book describes their various adventures doing that.

They then cross the Channel and realise exactly what they've bitten off and how terrifying an undertaking they've embarked upon. Luckily they eventually arrive in France. They go to Paris by way of Belgium, decide that Belgium is not for them and begin their epic voyage proper after a few weeks in gay Paris.

I know nothing about canal boats, the limit of my experience being a trip up The Grand Western Canal, which starts here in my town, with my grand-daughter. It was delightful but whether I would want to do what this couple did, I don't know: I have my doubts. However, reading about it was another matter entirely. Terry Darlington is a writer with a very amusing turn of phrase. I actually cried with laughter in several places. He describes the people they meet, the places they go, troubles that occur on narrow boats if you don't keep your wits about you, and even sometimes when you do. Jim the whippet is adorable and features very prominantly throughout the book. He hates travelling on the boat, runs at 40 miles an hour and is addicted to pork scratchings. I especially love other people's reactions to him as Terry takes him around French towns and canals.

It's not all beer and skittles... or should I say 'wine and boules' as this is France... They have some very hairy moments, not just out in the Channel but also in French locks or coming down the river Rhone. One night the wife on the boat moored next to them shoots herself, the couple had only been socialising with Terry and Monica the night before. There's some talk about the French experience in WW2 as well, Vichy France, the resistance, that kind of thing. All of it very interesting indeed.

It's quite possible I may have enjoyed Narrow Dog to Indian River slightly more than this book, the reason for that being that I'm far more interested in the USA than I am in France. On the other hand, Narrow Dog to Carcassonne is funnier. I don't remember being quite so creased up with laughter with Indian River but it was every bit as interesting, in fact I plan to read it again soon. The book I haven't read, Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier, presumably a UK based travelogue, is in the library so I plan to grab that at some stage. In the meantime I can heartily recommend any book by this author as being a thoroughly interesting and entertaining read.


GeraniumCat said...

Isn't Jim wonderful? I did know there were two more but the library didn't have them. Your post prompted me to go and check because it was so long ago that I looked, and I've managed to reserve one as an audiobook and the other as a "real" book. I shall laugh myself sick! I'm looking forward to them enormously (I've rather taken to audiobooks recently because I'm sleeping badly - I'm not sure it will be sleep inducing, but it should definitely take my mind off it!)

Val said...

The Narrow Boat books sound very inviting Cath. ..and I've driven through Stone enough times (it's near'ish the area I was raised)so now I've more books to add to my list ..Lol
I like interesting books that can make me laugh...saying this I've actually been listening to Ghostly/spooky stories this season a first for me But great fun (Perhaps one year I'll try the RIP challenge )

Christine Harding said...

It does sound interesting. I'm a terrible traveller, and rarely go anywhere because I am always ill, but I love travel writing, (and yes, Patrick Leigh Fermor is a favourite).

Cath said...

Geranium Cat: Jim is indeed wonderful. Every bit as interesting a character as his owners. I'm glad you've tracked down the other two books. I'm wondering if there will be any more.

Val: I too like interesting books that make me laugh - the best combination, imo. I've just started a book about Alaska by Brian Keenan, Four Quarters of Light, have you read it?

Hope you enjoyed your spooky stories, autumn is a good season for that kind of reading/listening.

Christine: Travelling long distances is a problem for me as I get homesick after a couple of weeks. These days we do short breaks within the UK and that suits me nicely.

I read a book of letters between Patrick Leigh Fermor and Deborah Devonshire (Mitford) at the beginning of the year. They were close friends and the book was excellent.

DesLily said...

this makes me wish that Bill Bryson wrote more funny books about places I wish I could go even here in the usa... like the grand canyon ..he already has me in love with the Appalachian Trail.

the one book I read on the Mitfords I quite enjoyed and when I began it I had no idea who any of them were! lol

monix said...

I read this book some time ago and loved it. I didn't know that there were two more so I'm going to see if I can get hold of them. Thanks for the tip.

Cath said...

Pat: Have you tried his Notes on a Small Island, about the UK?

The next Mitford I want to read about is Diana. Interested to know about her marriage to the British Nazi, Oswald Mosely.

Maureen: Glad to be of service. Devon Library service will get them for you I'm sure but be aware that Exeter City library is closed for the next year for renovations. They've moved some books to another location but assume many books will not now be available to reserve from there. Tiverton has all three of the Darlington books though. :-)

DesLily said...

lol I just recently found that in hardback in a thrift store so it's in my tbr pile! lol..

monix said...

Thanks for the tip about the libraries, Cath. I'll see what Barnstaple can offer.

Cath said...

Pat: Excellent, hope you enjoy it when you get to it. It's years since I read it so I plan to read it again maybe next year.

Maureen: In my experience Barnstaple's an excellent library so you may be lucky.

Vintage Reading said...

I'm read to read a bit more about the Mitford's, too. Nancy is my favourite as she is the novelist, but when I read the letters between the six sisters the letters I enjoyed most were written by Diana. Although I could never agree with her politics I was intrigued by her.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

Long time, no speak, I hope that all is well with you.

I very rarely read memoirs, but I have to say that the book of this couple's experience, does sound hilarious and with never a dull moment.

I am unable to swim and am petrified of water, so this would never be an experience that I would be interested in trying personally.

Which in some ways is a shame as we do live right of the doorstep of a fantastic canal system in Bath and close to the famous 'Caen Hill' locks in Devizes.

I must admit that I like my holidays with a bit more relaxation and a little less hard work, although I guess if I were retired, the attraction for narrow boats might sound a little better.

Nice review as ever though, you really give a great insight into the books you read.

Cath said...

Nicola: The library has that book of letters but my library ticket is almost full so I left it for another time. I really want to read Diana's autobiogrpahy. Like you I'm suspect I won't like her politics but am nevertheless intrigued.

There's a new doc starting on BBC2 tonight, about Hitler, and I'm wondering if there'll be any mention of Unity and Diana.

Yvonne: Very busy in October so didn't get online as much as I like to. All I managed in Oct. was was one book post, which is a bit pathetic, even for me.

I quite fancy a narrow boat holiday but am positive I would never ever want to cross The Channel in one! The author admitted that that was a very foolhardy thing to do.

The humour in this book came from the author's observations of people and the things they do and say. That and the lovely little dog, Jim.