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Agreeably miscellaneous episodes from the life of British travel-writer Newby, who has gone into more autobiographical (and scenic) detail in such memoirs as Something Wholesale, The Last Grain Race, and A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. Starting out with a bird's-eye look at the world on his 12/6/19 birthday (""That Saturday, if the weather had allowed, one could have flown to Paris or Brussels in one of the new Handley Page Commercial Aeroplanes, at a cost of £15 single fare""), Newby moves on to childhood snippets: a delightful tot's-eye view of Harrods, with its jungles of silk and mountains of food; family picnics (a mum-and-dad specialty); wee Eric's first glimpse of the sea; school-ward journeys through the low-down streets of Hammersmith; a holiday ""mystery tour"" to the ruins of Bindon Abbey; and the joys of leafing through The Children's Colour Book of Lands and Peoples. At 19, then, Eric is already travel-minded--and becomes an apprentice on the world's largest sailing vessel. (Some amusing letters home are included here; for details see The Last Grain Race.) The war brings roamings through Lebanon, POW-dom in Italy and Germany, with a couple of escape attempts. And in the years since there's a jaunty variety of excursions. To the provinces as a commercial traveler for Lane & Newby, hauling wicker baskets full of garments--which have to be endlessly unpacked, displayed (in hotel basements) to buyers, and re-packed. To remote, de-populated isles, to New York (walking up B'way to 179th St.) and Jordan and Istanbul--for the Times and the Observer. To Italy by bicycle through an oddly empty France. Into the London sewers. . . and into a charming correspondence with Evelyn Waugh, whom Newby--despite an opportunity or two--declined to meet in person. (""I did not have the constitution to accept"" a possible rebuff.) Devotees of richly detailed travel literature (or closeup autobiography) will want to read Newby's other, more focused reports. But, for casual, wry, low-key entertainment: a browse-worthy potpourri, which (thanks to the lightly chronological shaping) can also be read quite nicely straight through.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1982
Publisher: Little, Brown