Thursday, November 17, 2022

In the Footsteps of Giants

By Abir


From Hemingway’s home in Key West to the train platform at King’s Cross Station, readers love to visit the haunts of their favourite writers and the key scenes from their favourite books. What literary pilgrimage have you made (or would like to make)?



Well what a question this is! Ten out of ten for originality. In the several hundred years that I’ve been a member of this august panel, I can’t remember a question even vaguely like this…which is my way of saying thanks a lot, question setter, for making me have to think.


Where to start?


The first thing to say is I’ve never purposely set out to see some literary site or other. That’s not to say I haven’t seen any. On the contrary, I’ve seen too bloody many.


There are the obvious places – Ann Hathaway’s cottage in Shakespeare country and the Globe theatre in London – not so much a pilgrimage but the sort of thing you’re really forced to do when you live in Britain and foreign friends come to visit. Personally I’m not really one for thatched roofs, squint windows, stairs that look like they might collapse at any minute and an upper storey with such low ceilings that you have to constantly be bent over like that guy from Notre Dame (the cathedral – not the college), but foreigners seem to love all that Merry Olde England crap and frankly who am I to take the bread out of the mouths of the British tourist industry?


Then there are the places one passes pretty much every other week because one lives in a city with a rich literary heritage. I spent two decades living in London, which meant regular trips on the top deck of the bus along Baker Street, past the crowds on the pavement outside the fictional premises of 221B.


There was also the time I considered telling my son that if he ran really really fast at the pillar between platforms 9 and 10 at Kings Cross station that he too would find himself on the fabled platform 9 and three quarters, but my wife decided that was not the act of a caring father. It would have been funny though. 


There are also the places one visits just because one finds oneself in close proximity to them. There was the time I found myself in Philadelphia and of course I, like every other person who’s ever visited, had to run up those steps belting out the Rocky theme. To be fair, the theme had pretty much gone as I wheezed my way up the final few stairs.


Closer to home there’s the Oxford Bar in Edinburgh, where Ian Rankin’s world famous detective John Rebus hangs out. The bar is also where a lot of Mr Rankin’s fan mail gets delivered.


There are probably a dozen or more others that I could come up with if I put my mind to it, but as you’ll have surmised by now, I’m not exactly one to tax the little grey cells when it comes to writing these posts, so let’s just all agree to move on to the next bit.

‘what literary pilgrimage I would like to make’,

And here we come back to more little grey cells – this time those of the most famous fictional detective of all time, Monsieur Hercule Poirot (how’s that for a segue?!) If I were to make a pilgrimage, it would have to be upon the Orient Express, starting in Istanbul and travelling across the old continent in style: first class, all polished walnut and gleaming silver. Now that would be a proper homage, in the style that the little Belgian would have approved of. I suppose if I was very lucky, there’d be a murder on board – something to Ratchett up the tension – and of course, the proprietors of the company, not wishing to draw attention to the death, would ask world famous crime fiction writer extraordinaire (me – I’m talking about me) to solve the crime. An. unlike Poirot, I’d damn well solve it, I wouldn’t cop out and blame everyone and no one, because that’s just cheating. 

But I guess you’re asking, ‘Abir,what if, by some ridiculous twist of fate, you couldn’t solve it? How would you live with the shame?’ Well it’s a fair question, and my answer is I would just have to disappear. I’d wait till we reached Kings Cross station in London, jump off the train and sprint full pelt at the pillar between platforms 9 and 10, because that mythical platform to Hogwarts really is there. You just need to run at that pillar very very fast.



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