A. A. Gill is Further Away Helping with Enquiries by A. A. Gill
On the Adult Non-fiction shelves at 910.4 GIL
A. A. Gill is the TV and restaurant critic for the Sunday Times and author of fiction and non-fiction works. This book was recommended to me by a colleague but by coincidence I was heading his way anyway.
A little while ago, during my recent extended sick leave, I re-read Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson which I love. Several times Bryson references Paul Theroux’s The Kingdom by the Sea so I had a read of that. I wasn’t all that impressed and when Theroux came up in one of the blogs I subscribe to, Citizen Reader, I wrote so in the comments. Mrs CR blogs mostly about non-fiction, so I rely on her to throw up good NF reading suggestions. She suggested that I might enjoy A. A. Gill better. Just a day or so later, popping my nose round the office door while on a visit to work to say I’d be off for a little while longer, our Cataloguer reached round behind her desk and handed me A. A. Gill is Further Away. She’d been keeping it aside for me, thinking I might enjoy it.
And did I ever!
The first chapter had me interrupting my husband’s reading for about the third time with this description of one of the teams participating in the Thaxted Morris Ring : (pp12-13) “And then, as if to prove the utter imperviousness to aesthetics, along come the Britannia Coco-nut Dancers of Bacup. . . They are small, nervous men. And so they might be, for they are wearing white cotton night bonnets of the sort sported by Victorian maids, decorated with sparse ribbons. Then black polo-neck sweaters, like the Milk Tray man, with a white sash, black knee breeches, white stockings and black clogs. As if this weren’t enough, someone at some point has said: “What this outfit really needs is a red and white hooped minishirt.’ ‘Are you sure?’ the dancers must have replied. And he was. But it doesn’t finish there. They have black faces, out of which their bright little eyes shine anxiously. On their hands are strapped single castanets. A single castanet is the definition of uselessness. The corresponding castanet is worn on the knee. To say you couldn’t make up the Coco-nutters would be to deny the evidence of your astonished eyes.”
He’s right about that. Here’s the evidence :
I think he was wrong about the castanets by the way.
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this book. Ranging near (home in the UK) and far (India, Madagascar, the Arctic, Haiti amongst others) his ascerbic wit and keen eye, A. A. Gill makes you see and think differently about things and takes you through a range of emotions; the above-mentioned laughter, horror (Haiti) and despair (Algiers).
I can’t beat what he says so here are a few examples:
About Knightsbridge Barracks – “Knightsbridge Barracks is probably the ugliest building in London, with the most beautiful view. It was designed by Sir Basil Spence, who managed to construct vertical bomb damage out of horizontal bomb damage.” (p.17) Ouch!
Did you know that unemployed youth hanging around in Algiers, doing nothing are said to be ‘waiting for the Australian boat’? “In 1960 there was a rumour that a big ship from australia was going to come to the port to take away thousands of men for work and a better life. Every morning men would go to await its arrival. They’d come with their bags and their papers, they’d discuss the rumour of its approach in inexhaustible detail. Officials said it was just over the horizon. The boat became the great, sorry parable for tall the groundless hope and unfulfilled promise of Algiers.” (p. 180)
And attending the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009 Gill is accosted by the ‘Solzenhitsyn of dissent’ who gives him a “pamphlet claiming the global warming is all a conspiracy instigated by Prince Philip“. (p.180)