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A river with many tributaries
on 23 September 2012
Here is a random sample of some of the many things I have learned from reading Steffan Meyrick Hughes's distinctive book: that the Thames Estuary teems with the rusted shells of World War II gun turrets that drove their sentry occupants slowly insane; that the East European diaspora has become so entrenched a part of London life that local authorities have taken to putting up 'no fishing' signs in Slavic languages on the banks of the Thames; that Philip Larkin was an aficionado of pornography; that an excellent way of firing a shot across a despised relative's boughs from beyond the grave is to leave them a yacht in your will.
This diversity of information sums up the range of vignettes, insights and observations on offer as Meyrick Hughes cheerfully takes to the waterways of London for a historic trip up memory lane that spans a thousand years, without letting this limit his ability to address a wider array of subjects that interest him. By turns funny and poignant, Circle Lane is a thoroughly researched and well written account of one man's water-borne adventures that combines the best of hands-on journalism with an erudite and often wryly humorous reflection on a city he clearly thrives on. Not unsurprisingly, he also finds time to explain his passion for boats in a way that manages to be knowledgeable without alienating the uninitiated. Only when he reminisced about some of his sun-kissed childhood holidays sailing in the Med did I find it a little hard to relate - but then to be fair you don't get to cultivate a serious sailing habit by spending your summers visiting your (non-seafaring) relatives.
For all my landlubber credentials, I always had a sneaking desire to be a sailor (lousy swimming skills stymied me in this hope, alas) but even those who have never entertained (or like the author, comprehensively lived out) such fantasies should find plenty of good reasons to read this book. In fact reviewing it almost makes me miss my old job as a journalist - it's a pleasure to write about too.
To sum up, then, Around London In A Small Boat is a revealing look at one of the great cities of the world, as seen from its water-logged underbelly - would definitely recommend!