Monday, 13 January 2020

Travelling Light - Alastair Sawday

Travelling Light by Alastair Sawday is my first book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 reading challenge.

I've nabbed the author's Goodreads biography as it says in a few words what I would struggle to say in hundreds:

A pioneer in the environmental world, Alastair Sawday has had a remarkably miscellaneous and varied career, which has taken him to the most far-flung corners of the globe: he headed up a VSO programme in Papua New Guinea, ran a disaster relief team for Oxfam in Turkey, and has run a small travel company, conducting walking tours throughout Europe. It was this that inspired him to publish his first travel guide, French Bed & Breakfast, after discovering various ‘special’ B&Bs and the extraordinary people that run them

And this is he:

(Photo from various sites online and is the one used in the author bio at the back of the book.)

So, the book is very much an autobiographical account of Alastair Sawday's life but not in the manner of a traditional autobiography. It's anecdotal, meandering, philosophical and great for the armchair traveller such as myself in that it covers a lot of countries and is very entertaining. The author is a huge enviromentalist, very opinionated, I didn't always agree with his opinions (although mostly I did) but that's fine, I like reading books that take me out of my comfort zone a bit.

To be honest I don't think I've come across anyone who has led a more varied life, done more jobs, been to more places and done such interesting things. I had to read it in fits and starts because taking it all in and remembering it became quite a challenge. (I took notes in the end.)

He starts by briefly talking about his happy childhood, his private education (not so happy), holidays in France with his parents, and moves on to tell us about teaching French in St. Lucia. After that a delightful section on his love and visits to France. It leads him to setting up his own travel company specialising in unusual places to stay in that country and thus their first travel guide, the first of many. Sawday's first love is old French farmhouses. I can understand that as on one trip to France to visit my late sister-in-law I actually visited one belonging to her neighbour and was enchanted. He also loves French chateaux, gardens, music, and talks lovingly of them all.

Canal barging in Wales came next, followed by a chapter on his home county, Suffolk, and his love for said county... it is a very beautiful area. Then the South West, my home turf of course, he says it attracts more eccentrics than anywhere else in the UK. Well there ya go.......

Other countries and regions covered, Sicily, Venice, Ireland, Catalonia, Turkey, Greece (Mount Athos), India. He tells how 24,000 Indians had to flee Uganda in 1972 (I remember it well) because of Idi Amin of course, and how he went to help them settle at an old RAF base in Somerset. The book is just full to the brim with stories like this - this is a man who actually puts his money where his mouth is and does something concrete to help.

There's also quite a lot of history in the book, lot of things explained, 'why' certain situations around the world became a problem, escalated out of control, that kind of thing. Climate change is a particular focus for the author. I liked the fact that he quotes from some of my favourite authors, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Robert McFarlane, Roger Deakin, Eric Newby.

I enjoyed this one but did find it a bit too 'full-on'... information overload. I couldn't read it without stopping for a breather, if the author leads his life like this - and I suspect he does - he must be permanently exhausted. (It must be said here that I am of the wimpish variety of adult.)

So that's my first book for Mount TBR under my belt. Onwards and upwards!



Sam Sattler said...

I always applaud people who manage to live their lives to the fullest because I can't think of anything sadder than having to look backward from death's door while wondering why so much time was wasted doing little of consequence. And i think traveling is the best kind of education there is; it teaches you more than you will ever learn about the world in a book. If you truly want to know a country, get lost in it. I guarantee you that you will learn more in just a couple of days that way than you will in six weeks on a guided tour. I always tried to get lost on purpose, and I still do it that way on my summer road trips here in the U.S.

TracyK said...

Wow that is a very impressive life, varied as you say. I was thinking the same thing as you, too varied a life for me, but I admire what he has done.

Cath said...

Sam: I completely agree with you with respect to holidays. When in the USA 'wandering aimlessly' is what we do best. Luckily you have such a good system of hotels and motels over there that you can do that and get a room wherever you end up. Only once was that a problem when there was a college or uni football match on and all the rooms were taken. We just moved on to the next town. We have had so many happy accidents, lovely conversations, chance discoveries when wandering that I wouldn't have it any other way. It probably means we have missed one or two major attractions but I don't think we're any the worse for it.

Tracy: I admire him tremendously but do not think I could live my life in quite such a full-on manner. I need quiet periods. Last year, Sept. to the end of Dec. were busy and stressful for us and it's such a relief now to have a few quiet weeks.