GMBG July – A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush and The Teign Gardener

Technically I missed it. My GMBG for July has drifted into August, I hold my hand up. However, as I am in charge of all things “rules”, and books were shared and thoughts where thunk before the official cut off day, I say that all is fair and above board. This decision is final. Any letters of complaint should be addressed to my agent.

This month’s pairing is A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby and The Teign Gardener.

Shall we consider the book first, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. I read this book several years ago and to be honest the contents are a little sketchy. What I do remember is that it is funny, beautifully written and engaging. This might sound like faint praise, but for some reason it lodged in my mind. There are many that haven’t.

When a friend was ill, I thought this book would entertain him in his incapacity. Of course I never saw it again. Recently, still missing the potential to revisit what lies within its vanilla pages, I bought myself another copy. The ghost of memory can be very persuasive.

The book tells of the author’s 1956 road trip from London to Afghanistan, along with his friend Hugh Carless. Newby was no stranger to adventure; when he was eighteen he crewed one of the last square riggers to sail to Australia, as documented in his book The Last Grain Race. During the Second World War he dodged Germans and found love in the Italian mountains, you can read all about it in Love and War in the Apennines. But let us not get diverted from the book in question. Unfortunately, his previous exciting travails did not equip him well for his journey into Asia. With the confidence/arrogance of the fearless he muddled through. Do not worry, this is not a pompous book, EN is free with laughter at his own expense, unashamed to highlight their glaring shortcomings and bumblings. And there are photos, I do love a photo.

The Teign Gardener, which is not his given name but one that will suffice, is a stranger to me. Not quite a stranger, but almost. I have gleaned hints and shadows along the way but never quite understood. Of course if I’d asked he might have told me, but I have never felt it necessary. He has a past and a present. I will tell you what I know about his present, or perhaps more accurately what I surmise. He is a gardener. And he is a photographer. He studied a lone sycamore for a year, surveying and recording. We watched along. He is unrelenting and fine-focused. He lives on the edge of Dartmoor and is immersed in its soul, in a way that no one else needs to understand. Along with other fabulous artists, he is a member of group of photographers The Dartmoor Collective. They possibly have long beards and berets, but personally I think this is a good thing.

I chose this book for TTG because of a glimpse I have had of his past, one perhaps fixed in the often-troubled region of Mr Newby’s destination. He might find this book trite or colonial, but I hope he can see past this. I hope he enjoys a tale of adventure, in a time when travel of this kind was extraordinary.

Today TTG celebrates the wilderness. Seventy years ago, I think Mr Newby did that too.