Saturday, May 31, 2008


I’ve just spent a delightful few days roaming around in Provence. I usually write a sort of diary when I go away, mainly because when I get home I don’t seem to be able to recall all the little things which happen – the ones which add the light and shade, the texture and the detail to such a jaunt. My nearest and dearest has a slightly different take on this and implies that the local brew may somehow play a part, but that is, of course, a lie and a slur.

This time though, I ran into a problem. I try to take a book away with me which bears some relationship to where I’m going, and this time I picked one up in Waterstones, our local bookshop, called “Narrow Dog to Carcassonne”, by a guy named Terry Darlington. It was the simple story, so the blurb inside said, of a couple “of a certain age” (code for “old, of pensionable age, past it” etc) and their dog (who turns out to be the total star of the book – Lassie reincarnated in a whippet, for Goodness sake) meandering their way on a narrow canal boat from Stone in Staffordshire, across the English Channel, and down through the French waterways to the walled city of Carcassonne in South-West France. For those lacking a geography O level, that’s a bloody long way!

My problem was I found the writing in the book to be absolutely amazing – it grabbed me and enthralled me from Page 1 - the whole thing quite blew me away. As a result, I hit a blast of Writer’s Block. The author was so much better at his craft that I really felt like not bothering. You know the way it is – it’s like when you go to a golf tournament, and watch the professionals playing, and you realise, in an instant, that if you did nothing else but practice constantly for the rest of your life, there is no way you could match what you’d just seen them do. So you give up. They are simply in a different league.

The book is, at different times, hugely informative, gives a scalpel like precision to the ways (good and bad) of “les grenouilles”, hysterically funny and sometimes very moving in a typically English way – simply the best read I’ve had in ages.

One of the ways I judge my own appreciation of anything I read, is the point in the book where I start to get withdrawal symptom’s about finishing it, and never being able to suffer the pleasure I’m currently experiencing again. If it happens at all, it’s usually a few pages from the end. Here, as soon as they turned onto the Burgundy Canal, about halfway through France, they started.

It’s full of the most varied literary allusions, ranging from Speedy Gonzales, Bony Moronie and Great Balls of Fire to The Waste Land, The Canterbury Tales and The Faerie Queen – all via Gene Roddenberry and St Matthew’s Gospel. Either the guy is a gigantic pseud or a Grande Fromage in his field – (I think the latter). But the result was that I was left with a feeling of something approaching inadequacy by the skilled word-smithing I was enjoying. A bit like Wodehouse, I often found myself re-reading a sentence to take simple pleasure in the way it had been constructed – not that his style is remotely like Wodehouse, as you will find out if you join him on their voyage.

I’m over it a bit now, hence this piece, but it was a very strange feeling for a few days.

I’ve retraced my own steps a little, and rather than writing a “First we did this, then we did that” pile of words as we chomped our way around the sights of Provence, I decided to concentrate on two or three “vignettes” of our visit rather than bore the world to tears with the serial happenings of two old gits swimming around in the middle of a French wine lake.

So here goes………

Watch this space.



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