Alan's Reviews > Pub Walks In Underhill Country

Pub Walks In Underhill Country by Nat Segnit
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's review
Feb 21, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: novels, read-in-2011
Recommended for: Manny, I reckon

had to order this (well reserved at the library) after reading a review at the weekend because it's a novel about walking (between pubs) which Clare and I do a lot of, plus it's set around Birmingham, the city itself and also the Malvern Hills etc. ...well I did order it because I couldn't wait and started reading immediately: it's hilarious

..I’m really an urbanite, a city bloke now, but I was born and brought up in a country town (Tewkesbury), ten miles or so down the road from where the main character, Graham Underhill lives (Ledbury). I didn’t miss the countryside until I hit 50, but now try to get out at weekends for walks, and it is like re-living my childhood and youth (when we wanted to get stoned/trip we headed out to the hills). I do love my walks, even though I’m not cut out for it: I’m scared of horses, bulls, cows and, especially, dogs. I have the same prejudices against ramblers that many have, I quite understood the lad in ‘God's Own Country’ ( ) who despises them: 'Daft sods in pink and green hats' and try not to resemble them. I do not for instance wear a ‘tri-climate’ luminescent jacket like Graham, or have a compass around my neck, or a map in polythene, or a walking ‘stick’ (although that would come in handy now and again). Of course my muddy boots give me away when I get to the pub, and my rucksack (here called pedantically a ramblesack). Nor am I a real ale freak, I’m more of a lager man of the Becks/Peroni type (bland palate obviously). Graham of course loves real ale and describes many brews in the book: (I drank) three and a half pints of Wickwar’s moreish Cotswold Way (4.2%), whose upfront maltiness, followed by figgy, pruney notes reminiscent of Moroccan tagines, only added to its intense drinkability.

Anyway I'm trying to tell you how deeply I understand this character and how he’s not like me, well he is a bit, I’m a librarian and must have some of the geek in me. This bloke is geek x 100, pompous, boring, a man with a personality bypass, and wilfully blind to all that goes on around him (or is he? Sometimes you wonder). The book is set out as a series of walks (15 in all), with maps and watercolour illustrations and rating for the pub and difficulty. I’ve walked most of them, (although I tend towards the 5-6 mile walk, Graham would find that pitiful): Stratford, Snitterfield, the Long Mynd, Birmingham, Bourton on the Water and the Slaughters (in the Cotswolds), been to many of the pubs, so I suppose it holds special interest for me: eg I was fascinated to learn about the origins of Pitville Park in Cheltenham where I spent many Sundays as a child. It has the jaunty/pompous style of a guide book: Turn right and walk up the busy main road for half a mile, passing a newsagent, where you might like to stock up on water or something from proprietor Iqbal’s mouth watering range of self packaged sweets. There’s nothing like a well-timed Fruit Pastille to propel you up that mid-ramble incline!

But then personal notes creep in:Pass this ‘ruin with potential’ on the right, and ascending a steep path to climb a stile into High Wood, call out your companion’s name at the top of your voice. It becomes a tale of a man desperate to hang on to his beautiful but (probably) promiscuous Bengali wife, Sunita, and the walks are relegated (in one case becoming just a footnote) to their story as she finds excuses not to come on walks or disappears when on them. Graham is painfully obtuse, making excuses for her behaviour, but the reader is also alerted to a possible latent violent streak in him. It becomes quite Nabokovian in style – all those deceptions/the elusive object of beauty and his love rivals/the footnotes/the butterflies/Graham’s amazing erudition – he knows his history, architecture, literature, biology, natural history (all of which seem fine, but I did wonder about his knowledge of popular culture, eg that Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath invented the power chord because he lost the tips of his fingers in an industrial accident, and that – a footnote – interesting to note the centrality of rambling to early Led Zeppelin). In many ways it’s a kind of a cross between Lolita and Pale Fire. ((view spoiler)).

I’m not sure in the end if it all added up, but I enjoyed the ramble through this book, its dead ends - alternative routes - and natural beauties. I laughed and read bits out to Clare all the time. Mark of a good book I think.

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