Tuesday 11 July 2017

Two books about the water

Two watery books today. First, Waterlog by Roger Deakin.

This book is a celebration of wild swimming in the UK. It's quite a popular pastime apparently, which is something I was unaware of, although I have seen scenes of people swimming along rocky coasts on programmes such as the BBC's Coast. Roger Deakin set out, in 1996, to swim as many rivers, lakes, beachs, canals, aquaducts, you name it, of the country as took his fancy. He lived in Norfolk, near Diss, so East Anglia takes centre stage for a lot of the book. His home had small stretch of moat around it which apparently at one time, centuries ago, was not that unusual. But of course there are not many of them left, aside from a few stately homes and castles, Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk being a notable one. (It's owned by the National Trust and is a wonderful place to visit.)

He actually started his journey in the Isles of Scilly, off Cornwall, and thence into Cornwall itself. I was particulary interested in his swim in the outdoor lido in Penzance because this is where I swam as a child. The pool has recently been refurbished after being virtually destroyed by yet another Atlantic storm. Its triangular shape is apparently unique in the UK, something I didn't realise.

Photo: Penzance Jubilee pool

After that he swum all over the place, a lot in East Anglia as previously mentioned but also Scotland, Devon and Dorset, Sark in the Channel Islands, the Leeds & Liverpool canal, Lidos in London, remote mountain lakes in Wales, to name but a few.

It's quite hard to review books like this which meander almost as much as the rivers Deakin was swimming in. That's because his thoughts on all kinds of things take up as many pages as the actual swimming. We get a lot of history, topography, and musings on all kinds of topics, plus interesting bits on the people he meets, things that have happened to them and so on. The book is fascinating... it took me a month to read and I'm quite pleased about that as it meant I could savour it in detail and enjoy the wonderful laid back, contemplative nature it exudes. The sad thing is Roger Deakin died in 2006 aged 63. A sad loss to British nature writing.

Next: Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome

Three Men in a Boat hardly needs any introduction from me. This is my second or even third time of reading it, although I did't own it. Not even sure what did happen to my copy but when I saw this lovely Oxford World Classics edition advertised by them on Twitter I decided it was time for a reread and this was the one I wanted to read. It involves of course, three men, Henry, George and the narrator 'J', deciding to row up the river Thames from Kingston to Oxford, along with the dog, a fox terrier, Montmorency. It catalogues their fictional adventures and misfortunes, their ineptness despite them all being men who've been out on boats on various rivers in the past. What struck me was what a popular pastime 'messing about on the river' was back in the 1890s when this book was written. It was crazy popular, not so much for the pleasure it seemed to me, but for the act of being seen out and about and taking part. The river could get so crowded at the weekends it could take hours to get through particular locks of which there are many on The Thames. Of course, the joy of this book is not necessarily the boat trip itself. It's the author's cogitations on everything under the sun. Hilarious stuff so beautifully put that it had me it fits of laughter. And I loved how self-deluded the narrator is when it comes to his own character. To be honest he's deluded about *most* things. The book is a joy, if you haven't read it, please do, you won't regret it.

One parallel I must draw between Waterlog and Three Men in a Boat is that both sets of travellers found access to some parts of the rivers difficult due to private ownership and *signs* up all over the place. It drove Roger Deakin mad and also the three men in the boat. You might have thought things would've improved in a hundred years but no, apparently *not*. Interesting.

I'll be reading the second book, Three Men on the Bummel very soon... think I've already read that too but honestly don't remember it so I'm hoping it too will be a joy.



DesLily said...

wow, you are rolling right along! Barely reading.. but it hasn't stopped me from picking up a book or two at thrift shops! If I ever get thru this book on Crazy Horse I might get moving again.. I guess this author isn't the sort that keeps me reading. Most especially because the book is "about Crazy Horse" but says right off the bat that little is known about him except in Indian Lore which often isn't true or is exaggerated .. so I am well into the book and I haven't learned a thing about Crazy Horse! agh!... glad you are enjoying your reads!!!

Judith said...

I am very interested in your review about Waterlog, because in Devices and Desires, the incredible mystery novel by P.D. James which I'm reading now, a very tough woman character swims for at least 15 minutes each night after 9pm on the Norfolk Coast, not only in spring and summer, but also well into the autumn. No character in the novel finds this the least bit unusual, which gave me pause! So I guess James, who sites many of her novels in East Anglia, was well familiar with the wild swimming thing. Whew!
It's too bad that Deakins died in 2006. I always mourn the loss of writers that I enjoy.

BooksPlease said...

I'm not a good swimmer, so the idea of wild water swimming doesn't appeal, but the history, topography etc does. I read Deakin's 'Wildwood: a Journey through Trees' a while back, so I know just what you mean about the difficulties of reviewing that type of book. Waterlog sounds just as fascinating.

I have tried to read 'Three Men in a Boat' a couple of times, but didn't get very far each time. Maybe my sense of humour had left me as I didn't find what I read (not much I admit) very funny, or maybe it was just the wrong book at the wrong time for me. I'll have another go sometime after reading your review.

Cath said...

Pat: Fancy someone writing a book about Crazy Horse when so little is known about him that the book isn't really about him. And I thought I was weird... LOL Good luck finishing it anyway.

Judith: Back in the eighties when Roy Marsden was playing Dalgliesh on the TV I read every Dalgliesh book I could lay my hands on. Loved the TV series *and* the books. The TV series theme tune was so haunting I even bought the record. I must've read Devices and Desires but can't remember a thing about it. Possibly it's time I went back to the series. No, I don't think people would find that kind of swimming each day that unusual although I suspect most would shudder or shiver a bit at the thought of it. It's not uncommon and there are clubs all around the country where the members swim every day of the year. A feature of Christmas Day news always used to be people going for their dip on that special day. I do like drawing these interesting little parallels between books... making connections.

Margaret: I used to swim as a child and teen in Penzance, growing up, but lost my confidence somewhere along the line and can no longer swim. Every now and then I wonder if I should get some lessons at the pool and start again. I don't think it would take much for me to be swimming again. I think I liked Waterlog slightly better that Wildwood.

I think maybe you need to be in the right mood for Three Men in a Boat. Plus, it improves the further you get into it as he hits his stride. His style reminds me very much of Bill Bryson's when he's describing, for instance, cricket, or buying a loaf in a Parisian bakery. I know not everything appeals to everyone but both these authors make me weep with laughter at times.

BooksPlease said...

Cath, I'm moving Three Men in a Boat up my TBR list - if it makes you laugh like Bill Bryson's books I've obviously missed something - Bryson is one of my favourite authors.

I also loved Roy Marsden's Dalgleish and I must have read Devices and Desires too because I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, but I can't remember much about it either - reading the reviews it does seem familiar, sad isn't we can't retain details for very long! I read it before I began my blog, so have no record of what I liked about it. Forgetting the details was one of the reasons I began my blog so it's good to remind myself of that each time I think I'll stop blogging (always around this time of year).

Cath said...

Margaret, it could be JKJ is just not for you... it happens, as I well know... but worth giving him a second chance imo.

For me, Roy Marsden 'was' Dalgleish and always will be. I don't mind Martin Shaw as an actor but no way was he Dalgleish (just my opinion). Just as David Suchet is Poirot I suppose, and Joan Hickson, Miss Marple.

Years ago my mother-in-law, who was a great reader, mentioned to me that she found she couldn't retain details of books she'd read years ago. I was quite young and didn't have a 'years ago' to fall back on so didn't know what she meant. I do now. Even books from just a few years ago are very hazy indeed. It's a shame. Yes, I always have those 'perhaps I'll stop blogging' thoughts at this time of year. Or maybe a blogging break. I think I'd miss it though and the people I've met like yourself. I do enjoy these little bookish chats.

Christine Harding said...

A late read and comment I'm afraid! I enjoyed your reviews, especially the one on Waterlog. I really liked Deakin's Wildwood, and Notes from Walnut Tree Farm - I love the way he meanders from topic to topic, expressing his thoughts about nature, the environment, his own life and so on. I find his books are 'slow reads' to be savoured at leisure. But I haven't read this one because, like Margaret, I'm a poor swimmer (without my glasses I can't see), but you've whetted my appetite!

I have to be in the mood for Three Men in a Boat, but it's one of the few books that always makes me laugh out loud, and I know many of the places he mentions. People used to swim in the Thames at Runnymede (in Egham, where I grew up), but we were never allowed in the river, because my parents thought it was dangerous. And they didn't call it wild swimming in those days - it was just swimming.

Cath said...

Christine: I don't mind late comments at all. I liked Deakin's Wildwood too but have yet to read the Walnut Farm one... I shall get to it eventually. I too love the way he meandered from topic to topic - Robert McFarlane is a similar writer. I too am a poor swimmer who can't see without my glasses but it didn't affect my enjoyment of the book one bit... in fact it gave me a more pronounced sense of admiration for him. Such a sad loss to nature writing.

I'm the same with Three Men in a Boat, such a shame so few authors are capable of making us laugh. (Bill Bryson is another for me.) I think your parents were probably quite right not to allow you to swim in the river as a child. I honestly had no idea so many swimming groups exist that do swim in all kinds of unusual places.