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In Heaney country

It’s almost a year since the death of Seamus Heaney. Fionnuala McHugh, who was raised in Northern Ireland but is now resident in Hong Kong, explores for Telegraph Travel the poet’s homeland of County Derry, where his father had cut turf and the young Seamus famously chose another path:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Making a break

Deskbound Traveller is taking a break while its editor does some travelling himself. Normal service will resume as soon as possible.

McIlvanney’s Glasgow

Heading for Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games? Then have a look at the city as it was until recently through the eyes of Detective Inspector Jack Laidlaw. William McIlvanney’s trilogy of Laidlaw novels, Laidlaw (1977), The Papers of Tony Veitch (1983) and Strange Loyalties (1991), had shamefully been out of print until the start of this year, when that enterprising publisher Canongate, which had snapped up his back catalogue, republished them with several of his other titles.

Glasgow — “a hard town but a terrifically warm one”, in the words of McIlvanney — is as central to Laidlaw as Oxford is to Morse or Edinburgh to Rebus. The detective’s view of it, though, is not necessarily one that a tourist board would be keen to promote, especially this year:

“Sunday in the park — it was a nice day. A Glasgow sun was out, dully luminous, an eye with cataract. Some people were in the park pretending it was warm, exercising that necessary Scottish thrift with weather which hoards every good day in the hope of some year amassing a summer.

“The scene was a kind of Method School of Weather — a lot of people trying to achieve a subjective belief in the heat in the hope of convincing one another.  So the father who lay on the grass, railing in his children with his eyes, wore an open-necked shirt, letting the sun get at his goose-pimples. Two girls who were being chatted up by three boys managed to look romantically breeze-blown rather than cold. An old man sitting on a bench had undone the top two buttons of his overcoat, heralding heatwave…

“But it was the children who were most convincing. Running, exploring bushes, they had that preoccupation which is at any time a private climate. It was one of them who found the reality hidden in the park’s charade of warmth.”

Beckett and the lure of Lough Erne

The Irish actor Adrian Dunbar wrote an article for The Observer yesterday that was headlined (in the print version) “Beckett and me”. It was, though, less a piece about staging drama and more a hymn to Dunbar’s home town of Enniskillen – where Beckett spent his school years – and to the watery hinterland of County Fermanagh: “The saying goes that ‘Half the year Lough Erne is in Fermanagh, the other half of the year Fermanagh is in Lough Erne.’ Fermanagh people love these words as they explain exactly the relationship we have with water; sweet water, deep water. We are the boys and girls of the lough.”

Laurie Lee on Slad and Spain

Laurie Lee believed in writing at a distance from his subject. He wrote Cider with Rosie, his memoir of his childhood in the Gloucestershire village of Slad, in a back attic in London; he recalled his wanderings in Spain in a top-floor room in Stroud. In his last recorded radio interview, made available by BBC Radio Gloucestershire again to mark the centenary of his birth, he explains why. He also talks of the “naive innocent idiocies” that took him into Spain on the eve of the Civil War.

Another side of Gaza

Having grown up in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles, but in one of its less troubled parts, I’ve spent the years since dodging undeserved commiserations. No, daily life wasn’t a constant round of bomb scares and bullets, and I didn’t sleep under the bed in case of shooting (though I’ve met little boys who did). There was plenty of paddling and then swimming, rock-pooling and then fishing; family singsongs that gave way to Friday and Saturday nights at the disco. A place that’s described only in terms of conflict is hardly a place at all.

That’s why I was delighted to see Tanya Habjouqa’s pictures of people at play in the Palestinian territories win an award in the 2014 World Press Photo contest. I’ve embedded a link to those pictures in an extract from Meet Me in Gaza by Louisa Waugh, which was long-listed for this year’s Dolman Travel Book Award.

On the civil-rights trail in Alabama

Fifty years ago today, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law in the United States. Nigel Richardson, for Telegraph Travel, visits places in Alabama that are synonymous with black Americans’ struggle for freedom.

Rhythm and rails

The latest issue of Harper’s has a piece by Kevin Baker, a contributing editor of the magazine, on “The lost glories of America’s railroads”. At the moment, only subscribers can read it in full, but every visitor to the Harper’s website can see, argue with and add to Baker’s selection of “the 23 best train songs ever written – maybe”.

A few more? See the list I compiled, with suggestions from colleagues, when I published my first of two anthologies of Telegraph writing on railway journeys. Sadly, for some reason the links to the sound files on Grooveshark no longer work. Maybe it’s time I put together a new one…

And don’t forget that great poetry anthology recently edited by Sean O’Brien and Don Paterson for Faber and simply titled Train Songs.

Franz Ferdinand’s final journey

Adrian Bridge’s account of his journey in the footsteps of Franz Ferdinand (see previous post) is now online.

A weekend of wanderings

There was an excellent piece  in the Review section of The Guardian at the weekend by Robert Macfarlane on Laurie Lee and his wanderings through Spain. (I presume it’s from Macfarlane’s introduction to a new Penguin edition of one of Lee’s books, published to mark the centenary of the writer’s birth, but The Guardian doesn’t say.) “If the power of Cider with Rosie derives from its dream of dwelling,” he argues, “the power of As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning derives from its dream of leaving. If only I could live forever in one place, and come to know it so well, you think, reading Lee’s first volume of memoir. If only I could step from my front door, walk away and just keep going, you think, reading his second.

I’ve read all of Lee’s Spanish books several times, but Macfarlane, as he often does, made me feel I’d been only half-attentive. Of this passage from As I Walked Out

[The] next day, getting back on to the London road, I forgot everything but the way ahead. I walked steadily, effortlessly, hour after hour in a kind of swinging, weightless realm. I was at that age which feels neither strain nor friction, when the body burns magic fuels, so that it seems to glide in warm air, about a foot off the ground, smoothly obeying its intuitions. Even exhaustion, when it came, had a voluptuous quality, and sleep was caressive and deep, like oil.

he says:

The writing here is “voluptuous” yet precise, and as such it is characteristic of Lee’s style, in which elaborate metaphors serve not as ornaments, but rather as the means of most closely evoking complex experience. Lee does not walk so much as levitate or hover, borne aloft by supernatural stamina, and, in mimicry of this sensation, his clauses, suspended by their commas, also bear the reader along “the way” and onwards into the unknown. 

The Telegraph Magazine had a piece from Mike Pflanz on another wanderer, David Coulson, who has driven the equivalent of three times round the earth to find and chronicle the ancient rock art of Africa. “Here’s a great news story out of Africa,” says Coulson: “the preservation of thousands of years of history and culture about which we would know nothing if not for this art. That’s what should motivate us all to preserve it.”

A hundred years ago last week, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, set off on a trip that would end with his assassination – the event that triggered the First Word War. In Telegraph Travel, Adrian Bridge followed the archduke’s footsteps. “It’s a journey well worth doing today,” he says, “not because [Franz Ferdinand] did it, but for the geographical, historical, cultural and scenic splendours along the way”. The piece isn’t online as I write, so I’ll post a link to it later.

Also in the Review section of The Guardian was an interview by Emma Brockes with Teju Cole, mentioned here recently, who was born into a Nigerian family in the United States and is constantly struck by the ease of life there compared with that in Nigeria. How, he asks of the latter, “can a place be so interesting, full of history and real human conflict, and at the same time as slow as molasses?”