Far From The Sodding Crowd

More Uncommonly British Days Out
Halstead/Hazeley/Morris/Morris

Penguin, £ 14.99, £ 8.98 (Amazon)

Bollocks to Alton Towers – Uncommonly British Days Out is still probably my favourite travel guide of all time. Published a couple of years ago (in hardback, almost unknown for Penguin) it captures perfectly that rigid addiction to eccentricity that British people seem to be born with. That stoic determination to enjoy a day out at the seaside despite the hailstorm raging around the car parked on the prom, where they sit in silence stolidly chewing at sodden sandwiches, staring at leaden seas through rain lashing across the windscreen. The recipe of humour and indulgence that the four authors concocts hits, for me at least, the spot square-on, the fabulously grainy pictures so clearly taken by the authors rather than relying on professional ‘stock’ photos only adding to the experience.

Inspired, I made an effort to visit, among others, Mother Shipton’s Cave, Dennis Severs House, Avebury Stone Circle, Bekonscot, and, ahem, Gnome Magic, but, short of counting the David Beckham Trail, which would be a cheat since the tomato-grower’s polytunnel they call The David Beckham Academy wasn’t built at the time, Greenwich was sadly neglected.

I am delighted to say that the sequel, Far From the Sodding Crowd, has redressed the balance. Our home town is represented in this cornucopia of eccentricity in the august form of The Fan Museum, though I have to admit that in the slightly scary face of entrants such as the Yelverton Paperweight Centre, Cheddar Crazy Golf and the Pork Pie Pilgrimage, it seems almost sane in comparison. I won’t give you too much of their wonderfully gentle humour style, but in the few pages that they devote to the museum, the authors manage to give us an affectionate, yet accurate description I would have given my eye teeth to have written.

“Men and fans tend to make odd bedfellows. However stick an engine to a fan and it’s different story. Suddenly it becomes a Man Fan.”

Enjoy the entry about the Fan Museum, by all means, but don’t just buy the book for that. It’s a volume meant to be read and enjoyed cover-to-cover, and, with a bank holiday looming, to use. Visit a few of these truly British institutions and wonder that the big theme parks make any money at all. And if you are not already familiar with Bollocks to Alton Towers, get that too. It’s a sound investment indeed.

PS – how weird is this? As I am writing this entry, an interview with the writers has just come on the Today Programme.The music from The Twilight Zone has started burning through my brain…


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