I’ve had this sat on my kindle for the longest time – I read Mosquito Coast (and loved it) years ago, and so thought I’d give Theroux’s travel writing a go. Sat on a beach in Portwrinkle on a glorious day, a jaunt around the British coast seemed just the ticket.
Having already lived in London for years by that point, Theroux decided to travel clockwise around the British coast as a way of getting to know the country better. Starting at the bottom of the south-east coast, just a short train trip away from his home, Theroux picks his way around by train, ferry, bus, and foot, in a book that feels very much like a little time capsule, this being written in the early 80’s. The Falklands War is just getting underway, allowing the people Theroux meets to display their apathy and/or casual racism, skinheads and mods are fighting on the promenades, and it’s really quite difficult to eat out anywhere other than at a chippy or pub. Since that time, while some things remain the same much has changed – including how one would indeed go about a trip like this. The many little branch lines that Theroux takes – already threatened with closure at the time of his trip – have long since fallen away, the old train stations bought up by those with enough money to turn them into weekend homes. The death of industry is already well under way in many of the places Theroux visits, with areas of high unemployment and poverty already proliferating in once busy seaside towns – a situation that remains even in those areas selected for regeneration (mostly meaning a rapid growth in bars and restaurants, still reliant on the seasonal tourist trade), and the cheap as chips holiday camps are nowhere near so cheap (even if the delights that await inside those camps are still as naff).
I was a little disappointed that my neck of the woods only really got a brief mention as a train stop (though I don’t really blame Theroux for hanging about in Plymouth in the 80’s – although I’ve come to appreciate it a little more as I’ve aged, my memories of 80’s Plymouth are hardly studded with interesting places) but found the trip a mild diverting one – unfortunately there are only so many times you can read about seaside resorts that all feel exactly the same without a little tedium setting in. It picked up once we got to Scotland, which sounds like exactly the kind of coast I want to visit (a trip to Fort William earlier this year was cancelled due to a freak snowpocalypse which brought the country to a halt, but I’m determined to get there sooner rather than later), but this couldn’t quite dispel the gloom that had started to set in over how depressing the majority of the country and its people seemed to be.
This isn’t one of the most commended of Theroux’s travel books, and I must admit to wanting the book to just hurry up and finish around three quarters of the way through, but I still plan on reading his others.