Sunday, 8 July 2012

"The Longest Crawl," by Ian Marchant

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Longest CrawlI found this book for a couple of pounds in The Works (ssh, don't tell the author), and I bought it on impulse because I know a couple of places mentioned in the blurb on the back.

In "The Longest Crawl," Ian Marchant decides to go on a pub crawl for the length of Britain.  And I don't just mean Land's End to John O' Groats, no, that's for amateurs, I mean from the Scilly Isles to Unst in the Shetlands.  He is inspired by G.K. Chesterton's poem "The Rolling English Road" and the idea that the traveller's geography of the UK is inextricably tied to our heritage as a drinking nation.  He takes his friend, Perry, along with him as travelling companion for his month of driving, alcohol and hangovers.

I particularly liked the couple of bits about places I know, which intersected with some of my interests, and, as he travels the length of the UK, chances are that he might also write about somewhere you know and love.  In Plymouth he and Perry go to Prete's ice cream bar, where they are dumbfounded by a Robert Lenkiewicz mural on the wall.  I love Lenkiewicz's work, although I'm ashamed to say I have never been in Prete's, and I could easily highjack this post writing about him (how I saw Lenkiewicz in Plymouth a couple of times but was too intimidated to speak to him; how the dilapidated state of his huge outdoor mural on the Barbican saddens me; how I'd love to see The Riddle Mural at Port Eliot; how if I get rich I would like to own one of his paintings but it will need to be in a room my husband doesn't often go in because he's not keen on his work ).  He goes to Bath - a place I love - and mentions the Natural Theatre Company who I also shouldn't get started on (how I loved their touring shows when I was a teenager and wrote a couple of fan letters; how thanks to them I have a signed photograph of Henry VIII which I am fairly sure is a fake).  These familiar references are a big joy of the book.

In Marchant's book you learn quite a lot about the author himself, as well as learning a lot about the processes of making alcohol (Plymouth Gin, somerset cider, beer).   He is very self-deprecating and plays on the pub-bore side of his personality (without being boring): while his friend Perry flirts with cute barmaids and tour guides, he is the one asking technical questions about brewing and fermenting.  He is funny and frequently quite politically incorrect (with, I think, no malice), and he is very thoughtful along the way about the UK's historically fraught relationship with the demon drink

He also has a nice line in snoring similes ("like a donkey with emphysema" "like a dinosaur gargling wallpaper past").  But it's hard to beat the simplicity of my Dad telling my Mum that she snores like "an enraged warthog" (rude), or Mark telling me on various nights of the same cold that I made sounds in my sleep like "a startled baby otter" or, my personal favourite, a "disconsolate elk".

This was an interesting and entertaining book.  I'm thinking of getting one of Ian Marchant's earlier books "Parallel Lines," about our railways, as a present for my father who is a bit of a train fanatic.  Ssh, don't tell my Dad.


  1. Sounds like a read that is full of cultural tidbits...I wonder immediately, what's a crawl? That sounds like a cool read!

  2. I'm glad you like the sound of it, Elizabeth - it was an entertaining read.

    I've heard people talk about going on a "pub crawl" before, which means going around a lot of pubs in a place and trying to have a drink in each. I guess the idea is that by the end of it you'll be crawling and unable to walk...

  3. I've never been to Prete's either... although I do have a Belgian visitor staying at the moment, so it might be a great time to do all the local tourist things!

    I love reading about places I know too. I got excited recently when I saw a book about unique pubs, and the Union at Saltash was mentioned - that's the one with the Union flag pained on the side. I almost bought the book, but then thought "Why don't I just go down there for a drink?" :-D

  4. After reading your entertaining review, I've just ordered a copy of this for my boyfriend, whose birthday is on Monday. I think he'll love it; it will tick many of his boxes for what makes a good travelogue.

    Also, I feel the need to point out that we went to Britain's most northerly pub on Unst last week, so I'm guessing it was the same one the author visited.

    1. I'm pleased you liked the review, Joanne, and I hope that your boyfriend enjoys the book. I'd be interested to know what he thinks after he has read it.

      As part of my ongoing attempts to order my bookshelves, I passed the book on to a friend so I don't have it to hand to check the pub in Unst. I think it was called The Baltasound? I hope your experience was better than his, as I don't think it was a pub he liked much (hopefully it has improved since he was there).