Darlington, T. (2012) Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier Bantam Books ISBN 978 0 593 067673
For me, Terry Darlington’s trilogy has been a patchwork affair, with sections I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, particularly in Narrow Dog to Indian River where Darlington focused a little more on the travel writing (which he does well) and less on the autobiography (which I find less successful).
After their adventures in France and the US, Terry and Monica Darlington stay closer to home in NDtWP, travelling out from Stone along some of the inland waterways more dramatic, and perhaps less-travelled routes, on a new narrow boat Phyllis May 2 (her predecessor having gone up in flames) with a new narrow dog, Jess, as a wrestling partner for Jim. I’d personally have preferred a far greater focus on these trips and rather less focus on the memoirs.
To be honest, I found NDtWP a rather dispiriting read, the previous enthusiasm felt missing, and instead I was party to a sometimes harrowing account of upsets and illness. There were one or two lighter moments and some beautiful descriptions – but, sorry, the tone of the book made me feel quite depressed.
NDtWP also suffers from the quirkiness of Darlington’s ‘English omelette’ writing style that combines free-flowing stream of consciousness with sometimes over-wrought and rather flowery descriptiveness. And, though I’m a fan of poetry, I found the use of poetry and general erudition rather forced, invasive and distracting. I like to complete a book once I’ve started it, but with NDtWP I found myself reading faster and faster, skimming at times, just to try to finish it…
ps. and just in case you were wondering: Wigan Pier is the name given to an area around the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at the bottom of the Wigan flight of locks.
The original Wigan “pier” was a coal loading wharf or staithe, where narrow gauge coal wagons from a nearby colliery were tipped for loaded into canal barges. The name was brought into popular English folklore by George Formby (the elder) in the English Music Halls in the early part of the twentieth century and was given more serous acclaim with the publication in 1937 of the book “The Road to Wigan Pier” by Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950), better known by the pen name George Orwell. “The Road to Wigan Pier” is an account of poverty among the working class in the depressed areas of northern England.
The original wooden Wigan “pier” was, local historians believe, was probably demolished in 1929, with the iron from the coal wagon’s tippler, consisting of two curved rails at the end of a narrow tramway being sold for scrap value! With the rise of more recent pride in Wigan’s industrial heritage, a replica coal wagon tippler (and “pier”) was erected on (or about) the original location.