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.