I’m writing this on the eve of setting off on the first journey for the new Connelly opus. I know. Exciting isn’t it? What? Oh.
This book will be a bit of a departure for me, in that I’ll be doing all the travelling on Shanks’s Pony. It’ll be a series of big long walks, for which I’ve prepared by walking the ten mile round trip between the sprawling pile of Connelly Mansions and the British Library, and passing out when the cashier in the outdoors shop told me how much the gear I’d bought cost. How can waterproof overtrousers be so expensive? They’re so expensive in fact that I’ve been wearing them in the bath just so I can wring as much value for the hideous amount of money they cost as I can.
And can you believe that there are special walking pants? Well, so the bloke in the shop told me; but he might have been influenced by the fact that he had the biggest sucker in the world in front of him and decided to fleece me way beyond the purchase of a fleece. I bought two pairs, nonetheless.
So tomorrow I’m heading for Norfolk. Kicking off in Norwich and heading south, a little bit of Diss and that, my alma mater in Colchester and on and on and on until my leg muscles audibly scream for mercy.
Perhaps appropriately, I shall be packing my rucksack this evening while watching Michael Palin’s new series. There was a great interview with him in the Guardian last week, which contained good advice for any aspiring travel writer and pretty much sums up why I love what I do.
“And of course I learn a lot from my travels,” he said. “Things I wouldn’t learn at home, like how to survive on five hours’ sleep a night, how to distinguish yoghurt from mayonnaise in hotel buffets, and how to say sorry in Pashtun.
“But sharing my travels with large numbers of people across the world, on film and on the page, is something else altogether, and carries with it a whole lot of anxieties that have to be wrestled with before each new departure. Like what I should be telling people and why. What is my agenda? What is my purpose? What can I possibly tell the world that the Charles Wheelers, Colin Thubrons, Dervla Murphys and the like haven’t already told them?
“But this way madness lies. I have, for the past six series, found that it is better not to be too self-conscious. My approach, and it’s one I’d urge on any would-be travel writer or journalist stepping on to a foreign dockside, is be yourself, and see where it gets you.
“I like to travel as light as possible. I try not to go out with too many prejudices or come back with too many opinions. I’m frequently approached by people who want to know how travel has changed me and what great insights I might have had on dusty roads and in blazing sunsets. Now I no longer even try to make up an answer. Any journey away from the room you’re sitting in will increase the potential for coming upon the unexpected and occasionally wonderful, but that’s not to equate travel with ultimate enlightenment or universal solutions, any more than breathing will ensure you become president of the US. It helps, but that’s about all. I’ve learned that what I like about travel is that it doesn’t sort everything out. Actually, it doesn’t sort anything out. Where there was certainty, it sows uncertainty, where there is conviction, it sows doubt, where there is comfort, it sows heat rash. It’s just that being in unfamiliar surroundings watching unfamiliar activity is something I find, on the whole, deeply refreshing.”
See y’all when I get back. Be good, play nicely.