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Travels With A Pair Of Waterproof Trousers

Hello!  I interrupt your peaceful LJ-grazing simply to barge into your personal space, plonk my well-upholstered rear down next to you upon your bijou sofa, and gabble at you incoherently in an effort to recommend this book:

(Well now, aren't you glad that this is an online acquaintanceship and not a face-to-face one?!)

First, a story.

Long, long ago, I was a student of Archaeology - not a terribly diligent one; mine is a mercurial intellect more befitting of the dilettante than the scholar, but heigh ho. ^_^  One of our lecture courses was on the Archaeology of Africa.  It was pretty interesting stuff - that is to say, I can still remember some of it. ;-)  Unfortunately, the lecturer was an annoying man whose less becoming tendencies included (a) the wearing of trousers that did not fit him very well and (b) boasting ceaselessly about his television career (indeed, on one occasion he wheeled in a television set and VCR - remember those?! - and simply played us a video of some documentary he had made, rather than actually giving a lecture...  Well, I suppose it saved on prep. time for him, and at least we didn't have to watch him hoisting his waistband every five seconds; that is to say, I presume the TV producer must have handed him a belt just before the camera rolled... XD).

Anyway - to cut short these unsavoury reminiscences, let me get to the point - which is that the name of the renowned Medieval traveller Ibn Battutah was mentioned on several occasions by this charmless fellow, whose involvement in this entry ends here, thankfully.  A mental note was made by Self in re chasing up the said globetrotter and his writings, which sounded so interesting.  I have never done so, although I did put him (or rather his travelogue) on my Christmas wish-list last year.  Unfortunately (but not really, for I'm not ungrateful!) I got other things instead, but as you can see, my mind has been on a very leisurely meander Battutah-wards for some years.

Let us fast forward to last Tuesday morning, when I was doing my usual stint in the Oxfam bookshop.  It was a slow day, and owing to a poor night's sleep and a timely visitation from One of the Many Joys of Womanhood I was not feeling exactly fabby-dabby.  The only eventful interlude of the day had been when a gaggle of uncivilised persons gathered for some minutes outside the shop door, trading loud banalities and smoking foul tobacco.  I did not deem it wise to attempt to move them on, choosing instead to stand behind the counter, fuming metaphorically in response to the noxious vapours that they were wafting into the shop.  Well - in the absence of customers I began to let my gaze wander around the shelves.

For some reason Oxfam stocks many peculiar academic texts (I suppose it's being in a university town that does it) and for a while I was distracted by such pearls as "Queer Blake" (which was a survey of any possible non-straight reading of the works of William Blake - given some people's ability to read subtext into anything - shopping lists, cornflake packets - I would imagine that such esoteric fare as Blake would have kept the authors occupied for some years!) and "Victorian Working Women" (which was not, as you might think, about prostitution; the chapter on 'idle women' probably applies to me!).

But then, over the other side of the shop, I saw the book pictured above.  A new arrival with an interesting cover, it had been displayed 'facing out' to attract customers.  I had heard Tim Mackintosh-Smith talk on the radio not long ago and found him very entertaining.  And I'd read lots of good reviews of his 'Travels With a Tangerine' when browsing IB-related items on Amazon (including his edition of the Travels, which was the one on my list).  Hitherto I've been very good at not buying books when working in the shop - there are so many interesting ones, I'd go promptly bankrupt if I bought everything that looked worth reading.  But having read the opening pages of this volume, I decided I would buy it (for the bargain price of £2.49) and have been enjoying it very much indeed since then.

The material covered is hard to confine to a neat nutshell - indeed, there are two additional volumes in which the author traces the further wanderings of Ibn Battutah, and which I shall have to read when I've finished this one.  We trot in Mackintosh-Smith's wake, tasting repugnant-sounding delicacies (to which he is partial), encountering warm and engaging people, missing boats, exploring mosques and tombs, searching for traces of the people IB met, and taking in the aromas and ambiences of a thousand and one exotic and yet homely places.

It is one of those books that feels like a companionable conversation with a kind and learned person.  You feel, reading it, that you would like to cook Mr Mackintosh-Smith an excellent dinner (it would have to include some kind of noisome culinary curiosity, for these he cannot resist) and hear his views on... any topic at all, really.  His descriptions of things and people and places are those of someone who is not only happily tuned in to the universal human experience, but filled with the subtlety and wit of a true scholar.  Far too many 'factual' books that I have read of late turned out to be written in appalling 'documentary English' like the patronising patter of a presenter going on a pointless 'journey' (as they all, inevitably, seem to do).  This book records a real journey.  Plus, it sends me scurrying to the dictionary to look up unfamiliar words, and has me grinning at delightful wordplay and freshly-minted neologisms of TMS's own coinage.

Indeed, TMS is one of those writers who not only impresses, but inspires.  He doesn't intimidate you with his erudition (which is substantial, and humbling) - it's more like a friendly challenge to go rummaging around in the libraries and second-hand bookshops of the universe, rootling out knowledge, following its savoury, trufflish aroma on an endless trail around whatever subject you might be interested in.  Instead of making me feel inadequate, ordinary and humdrum, reading this book makes me feel that curiosity (yes, even mine!), coupled with vocabulary, could perhaps lead a person (yes, even me!  Even you!) anywhere.  And that, surely, is something for any travel book to aspire to!

Don't worry - I don't think I'll be bothering the world with any travel-writing of my own.  Having said that, there is a world out there, and armed (or do I mean legged?) with my trusty waterproof trousers, notebook and pen, I can only wander in hope! :-D

TL;DR: read this book, it's great. ^_^  Or, if you don't like reading, have the TV documentary version! :-D


( 8 confidences — Confide in me... )
Jun. 27th, 2011 06:34 pm (UTC)
That sounds like an interesting book!
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:17 pm (UTC)
It sure is!
Jun. 27th, 2011 11:03 pm (UTC)
I feel like you should be in PR now :)
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:19 pm (UTC)
Haha, if it was 'PR for authors I like', that would be quite a fun job! ;-)
Jun. 28th, 2011 12:14 am (UTC)
That does sound interesting. I should ttly pick it up. :D
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
It really does have much charm! :-) Further points in the author's favour: he refers several times to being 'married to his books' and was an Organ Scholar at Oxford. ^_^ Just the kind of person I'd like to hang out with! XD
Jun. 28th, 2011 09:14 am (UTC)
I've been given many a book-token for my recent quarter-century, so I think I'll add this to my list :-)

Also, hello! How are you?
Jun. 28th, 2011 04:26 pm (UTC)
Ack, did I miss a birthday?? Belated Happy Birthday to you sir! :-D

I am very well, thanks - how goes it with you?
( 8 confidences — Confide in me... )

Eavesdrop, snoop, and sigh with yearning...

This journal is not a private diary, it is more like an occasional, imaginary column. Therefore, much of it is on public display. However, if you want to read my occasional attempts at creative writing, my Caution Elf tells me I should only show that stuff to my friends. You know what to do. :-)

NB: If you add me in an unsolicited fashion, please introduce yourself. Otherwise I will probably ignore you.

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