Wednesday 21 February 2018

Aaronovitch, David "Paddling to Jerusalem"

Aaronovitch, David "Paddling to Jerusalem. An Aquatic Tour of Our Small Country" - 2000

I had read a few books by the author's brother Ben, so when I saw the name Aaronovitch in a used bookstore, I just had to take it home. Plus, the title "Paddling to Jerusalem" promised an interesting story. I envisaged something taking place in Israel. How wrong I was.

My disappointment quickly changed into joy when I discovered that first, David Aaronovitch was paddling around England, so what's not to like? And second, he mentions a few people who have written books about his country before, i.a. Bill Bryson, one of my favourite writers whom this author also seems to admire. So, we see him first on his search for the kayak that is going to help him get around the country and then follow him and said kayak plus a copy of "Middlemarch" from London up to the north and back again where he meets all sorts of people and visits all kinds of towns and villages.

A nice story about someone who gets up and does something completely different where many people think they are getting too old for this kind of stuff, including myself. Thankfully, there are always writers like this one to help us discover the world.

From the back cover:

"David Aaronovitch, the award-winning columnist and broadcaster canoes round the waterways and canals of England on the eve of the new Millennium.

In the last summer of the twentieth century, a rather large man got into a small boat and went out to discover England. On its canals and rivers, from the Thames to the Trent, from Camden Lock to Skipton, David Aaronovitch fumbled for the pulse of the least known nation in Britain.

He discovered a land of saucy grannies, voyaging landladies, Barratt's estates with well-tended gardens, childhood museums, opticians, aromatherapy, steam railways, scented candles, shopping malls, computers, coffee cake, stress phalli, man Utd supporters, rock festivals, soap opera behaviour, young men driving too fast, Buddhists, urchins, dead deer, private property, new universities, tattooed anglers and pewter herons.

On the way, Aaronovitch survived rapids, camping, stone-throwing hooligans, attempted murder by swans, a whole day without much food, the Beaverbrook Hotel in Burnley, solitude and a terrible ennui. Death stalked him for the entire journey. After four days he gave up, and then began again.

And among the towns and villages he encountered a selection of ghosts from the nation's past: bad King John, Aaron the Jew of Lincoln, Stanley Baldwin and the painter, Hilda Carline.

Yet in the process he found out one or two useful things about himself. Like the lithe and unjustified optimism it required for an unfit forty-year-old to suddenly take off on his own for months, using a form of transport that was inherently unstable, for reasons which were occasionally inscrutable - even to himself.

Hilarious, provocative and moving, Paddling to Jerusalem is the story of what happens when a bad idea gets the better of you and, in the process, becomes a very good idea indeed."