The Kingdom by the Sea

Despite my reading material these days being dominated by official Cisco books on various networking technologies due to my ongoing exams, I am still trying to find time to pursue my other reading interests. A few years back, during a library sale of old stock, I picked up Paul Theroux’s The Kingdom by the Sea. It was Theroux’s account of his 1982 journey around coastal Britain. As it happens, I had just entered my teens in Bolton that year and now thought it might be interesting to look back and read his impression of the country at the time.

The book’s observations come across as pretty depressing. Theroux visits  dilapidated town after town all clearly past their prime and now having fallen on hard economic times. High unemployment is everywhere and many youths seem determined to stay on the dole rather than make the effort to look for work. How far away seem the greedy yuppie years that were just around the corner! As a running background to Theroux’s journey, the UK is involved in the Falklands conflict with Argentina and a couple of months later Israel invades the Lebanon.

Here is a small extract from Theroux’s book – I may post others in the coming days:

“In some towns the church had been sold and was now a craft centre or a movie theatre. What to do with a defunct church was always a problem in England. Muslims occasionally petitioned for the church to be sold to them so that they could turn it into a mosque, but the request was always turned down. It seemed to much like defilement to worship Allah at St. Cuthbert’s. Instead, the church was made into a bingo hall, or else torn down and a petrol station built in its place.” (p58).

I am not convinced as to the accuracy of this passage. Before we moved out of Bolton in 1984 I recall a large church on Blackburn Road having been purchased by the local Muslim community and turned into a mosque. When we moved to Ilford, our local mosque was a former Methodist church. And I am pretty sure this experience was not unique to me.

Still, the book has been an interesting and diverting read which has brought back a lot of memories. Remember this ad with Jimmy Saville – just one a series of similar ads he featured in – exhorting more people to use the trains?

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1 Response to The Kingdom by the Sea

  1. Jason says:

    I am reading this book as well, having bought it for about a quarter at a library book sale. Theroux’s irony and wit have carried me a good way along his journey, but I’m not sure they can sustain me through its end. They’re used in service of one put-down after another, chiefly at the expense of people whose prospects have been clipped through no fault of their own. I would not like to read a judgemental travelogue describing my home state of Iowa in 1982, when economic disasters gouged terrible holes in our lives.

    I think the best that I can say of Theroux is that he is very often witty in his unkind, ungenerous witticisms. (I think of Emma insulting Miss Bates.) And he sometimes has a keen idea for natural beauty–telling, as there is no one to credit or blame in a bee-loud glade.

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