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Wet & Windy
on 4 August 2011
Overall, I was disappointed with this. I bought it based on the suggestions of cover and title that it was a humorous potter round the parts of Britain that are off the well-worn tourist trail - something between "Bollocks to Alton Towers" and Stuart Maconie. Well, the pottering-about and the off-the-beaten-track aspects are there, but sadly, not the humour, and without a few laughs along the way, this soon became a tired trudge through a travel journalist's checklist of things to see/people to meet in any given location. I think that as soon as the reader becomes aware of the author actually taking down notes, arranging interviews (John Hume for god's sake) and doing things for their supposed anecdotal value, then the game is up and it feels like a leaden-footed 'commission' rather than an individual's intimate travel diary.
There were three other annoyances:
1. The title. I'm convinced this was originally going to be called "From Hell to Hull". Chronologically I have a suspicion that he actually started in The Scilly Isles rather than finished there, but a return trip to Hull presented itself because of Larkin commemorations last year, and I think they re-structured/re-titled the book accordingly. The inclusion of The Scilly Isles seemed completely spurious as they are hardly an "unsung" tourist attraction, and the return to Hull as required by the title was also completely spurious. So the whole book was hung on a weak pun that doesn't really work.
2. The author's wife. I just got fed-up hearing about the author's phone calls home in which his wife was so aghast at the very prospect of even being in Coventry or South Shields. Come on, we're hardly talking about Mogadishu or Kandahar! This sneery subtext betrayed the author's true thoughts on his destinations.
3. The author. Considering he's the travel editor of The Times, why did EVERYTHING come as a complete surprise to him, whether socially, historically or geographically? It was as if his sphere of consciousness before his trip didn't extend beyond the M25 or before this century. In the end he came across as being as wet and windy as his ferry ride out of Penzance.