Coming out of Waitrose supermarket, I pick up an edition of their paper, Weekend: it’s free, usually contains one or two interesting meal ideas and, if nothing else, makes a good liner for the food scraps recycling caddy.
The paper has Mariella Frostrup writing a regular column. In this edition, she suggests we consider six books which may give insights into our character. I think this is an easier task than choosing eight songs for a desert island. What would those six books be?
The Autobiography of a Supertramp (WH Davies)
My copy of this book bears the ink stamp of my old school library. There was a time when it was thought the pupils weren’t making enough use of the room, other than to use it as an impromptu common room. It had a long south facing façade and it a great place to chill out and chat in the Autumn or Spring sunshine. A decree was set that each pupil had to borrow three books from the library. So, when it was my turn, I picked this one, a John Wyndham omnibus, and a Twentieth Century Book of Verse. By the time I left school for good, I still hadn’t read either, nor had I remembered to take them back.
Some years after, being by then more interested in books, I decided to read them. It surprised me how good this book is, an account of Davies’ preference for life on the road. A Welshman, he begins tramping around Britain but is soon working his passage to the States where bumming about is a whole new ball game, one in which jumping freight trains without being caught is an essential life skill. In time, he makes it to Canada where he is hospitalised after a serious accident, then returns to England and throws himself at the mercy of the establishment charities.
But Davies was also a poet. Probably the most famous of his works is Leisure, the one with the opening lines,
“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?”
It’s a good sentiment if not a great poem; even if we’re not brave enough to be a tramp, a “king, or queen, of the road”, we should, at least, spare time just to stand and stare.
As a poet, Davies was taken under the wing of fellow poet, Edward Thomas, and I was interested to discover that he helped settle him in a cottage in Nailsworth, not a million miles from where I live now. It’s a small world.
excellent related reads:
A Poet’s Pilgrimage also by WH Davies – a brief return to tramping through England
The Road, by Jack London – alternative tramping experiences and freight train jumping in the USA
In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas – a bicycle ride from London, westwards.