How a simple walk changed British politics

I’m currently preparing a talk for the Indelicates album launch event, The October Ritual. Based on my research so far, I’ll be talking about the links between the National Trust, Brexit and hiking.

There are obvious links between walking and politics. Marching is just the most obvious: there’s also the Kinder Scout Mass Tresspass, the Situationist derive and many artistic interventions. These examples are all related to resistance. But one recent political walk that will affect Britain, Europe and the world was by two people on the right. This is Theresa May’s visit to Dolgellau in Wales.

In early April, Theresa May and her husband went on a five day holiday around Dolgellau, a town in North Wales which had most recently elected a Plaid Cymru MP. It’s said that this walking holiday gave her time to think, resulting in the plan of a snap election to increase her majority. This election actually reduced her majority to an almost-unmanageable 12, the cunning plan turning out to be as poor as those from Tyrion Lannister in this season’s Game of Thrones.

May’s walk is chronicled in a Guardian piece by Nazia Parveen, ‘The walks give clarity’: how Wales hike helped PM decide on next step. She arrived in Dolgellau on April 6th, staying in the “luxurious Penmaenuchaf Hall hotel”, which was used as her base for a series of outings. The article quotes from the guidebook May used, Walks in and Around Dolgellau Town by Michael Burnett: “During the walk, there are a series of revelations. Those moments of discovery are mind-cleansing. They focus you, give you that moment of clarity you need to make those important decisions.

The article spends a little time talking about May’s shopping in the town, how on a previous trip she bought birthday gifts for the town for the German Chancellor. Angela Merkel is apparently also a keen hiker, and received a coffee -table book of Wainwright’s Coast-to-coast walk. On this trip May purchased a Celtic ring from local artist Anna Hicks, which the Prime Minster wore as she announced the ill-fated election.

May completed Walk 6, Pen Y Fron Serth and Trefeilia.  Burnett, the guidebook’s writer, talks about how the landscape seems to help resolve issues (the old idea of Solvitur ambulando -it is solved by walking):

It is the combination of physical exertion and being in this landscape – it focuses you. You can be thinking about something important when you are walking and then when you stop, often I find the issues that have been going through the mind then come together more easily.

The article ends by saying that May’s expedition had drawn other walkers: “There are those who have come looking for the sights that inspired May’s decision and others who are treating the trip as a pilgrimage – following in her footsteps.” The article was published a few weeks after May’s announcement, so I don’t know if this boost continued after the resounding defeat, but I find myself drawn to visit, to re-enact this fateful, disastrous hike.

The Joys of the Lonely Planet

To reach Pushkar, in Rajastan, you first take the train to Ajmer; while Pushkar does have a station, very few services stop there. From Ajmer, it’s a half hour journey, through a pass between two low mountains. Pushkar is on a small plain surrounded by mountains, and lies around a square holy lake. It is famed as few places where Brahma is worshipped and draws in both pilgrims and travellers. The main street is full of souvenir stalls and even a didgeridoo shop, for those hippies wanting to appropriate two cultures at the same time.

My first time in Pushkar was a day trip – I stayed in Ajmer instead, exploring the sights there. I popped into Pushkar for a few hours; the lake was dry and too many people were hassling me, so I headed back fairly soon. My second trip, I stayed a few days in the Lakeview hotel, which had been recommended by my friend Vicky. The hotel’s more expensive rooms overlooked the lakes, and didn’t have bathrooms, due to their proximity to the religious area. I settled for a room on the street side. I spent many happy hours in the roof restaurant, watching the ceremonies on the lake.

Time had been hard for the hotel’s proprietors on that first trip as they had not been listed in the most recent Lonely Planet Guide. As far as I could tell, there was nothing wrong with the place, it seemed cheap enough too, so it was probably just bad luck. The problem is that travellers will always work their way through the guidebook first. Tripadvisor might be challenging the supremacy of the Lonely Planet’s reviews now, but the Lonely Planet still directs a large number of visitors. It’s reviews are better too – Lonely Planet reviewers give an objective review. Tripadvisor is full of vendettas, angry screeds and people with unrealistic expectations.

For restaurants, bars and hotels around the world, endorsement from the Lonely Planet can be incredibly valuable. If a place gets a particularly good write-up, another might open nearby with a similar name, in the hope of catching some of its trade. The encouragement of the Lonely Planet brings in yet more tourists who like the comfort of good guesthouses and restaurants. I’m one of them.

The Lonely Planet soon begins to look less lonely. One can buy didgeridoos in Pushkar, and every town has restaurants selling banana pancakes or Oreo shakes. On the street a short distance from the Lakeview Hotel is an excellent falafel stand, and the ‘Out of the Blue’ restaurant sells excellent pizzas.

(Out of the Blue also sells a special lassi. My father once tried to order this for dessert, thinking he would treat himself. I’m very grateful to the waiter who, after asking three times if he was sure, explained that the lassi was special as it contained bhang, a very strong form of marijuana. My Dad opted for a fruit lassi instead.)

The Lonely Planet has created new bottlenecks in India, just as the overland hippie trail led to traveller hangouts like Delhi’s Indian Coffee House being popular. And hanging out with other visitors can be fun. It was another traveller who told me I had to visit Orchha, which was much more interesting than its short write-up in the Lonely Planet suggested.

But, at the same time, you don’t want to spend all of your time with people you would avoid back home. William Sutcliffe discussed this in his novel about India, Are You Experienced. While the book suffers a little from being a product of the laddish 1990s, it contains some astute observations about India. In Manali, the narrator meets a load of public schoolboys, who are thrilled at bumping into each other by chance. He points out that there are only a few places in India where they are likely to go. India might be massive, but tourist India is a much smaller place. I’ve chatted with people in Agra, then bumped into them a few days later in Jaipur.

There are things you need to know about a country before you get there, such as how to get around, what legal rights and cultural expectations surround travellers, and which places are best avoided. It’s also good to know the local scams – while getting involved in a jewellery investment in a foreign country is foolhardy, there are elegant cons that easily capture the jet-lagged and unwary. For these, a guidebook is invaluable.

But escaping the trail can be fun. I would never have gone to India without the reassurance of reading a guidebook beforehand. But my favourite moments have been places that were a little off that trail: cities like Gwalior or Lucknow that are almost completely ignored by travellers; chai shacks at the sides of busy roads. I stayed three nights in an empty luxury hotel near Dausa that had regular power-cuts. And I’d have sometimes done better with hotels by turning up in a new city and seeing what is available, rather than go with places made complacent or more expensive by guidebook listings. Nowadays, I could probably discard the guidebook and have a more interesting time without it. And, just like the first Lonely Planet guide, Across Asia on the Cheap suggested, the best advice comes from other travellers.

For my next trip, I’m wondering if I should just leave all guidebooks behind.

My Favourite Books of 2016 – and the best so far this year

This post is incredibly late. I found it lying lost in my drafts folder, and it seems a shame not to post it. So: last year I read 82 books, and mostly managed to avoid bad ones. Picking out a arbitrary best eight:

  1. Command and Control / Eric Schlosser
  2. Dietland / Sarai Walker
  3. Do it for your Mum / Roy Wilkinson
  4. Electric dreams / Tom Lean
  5. The Last Days Of Jack Sparks / Jason Arnopp
  6. Seveneves / Neal Stephenson
  7. A Trojan Feast / Joshua Cutchin
  8. The Way we die now / Seamus O’Mahony

As far as I remember, Seveneves gave me worse nightmares than any book I’ve read in life. Not bad for a book that’s sci-fi rather than horror. I read a lot of apocalyptic fiction, but the image of the moon exploding and destroying the earth with debris was incredibly potent.

When I first started blogging, about 15 years ago, I decided that I shouldn’t write negative things. This is a good rule and one I’ve rarely broken. But… I read two truly terrible books by once-great authors: Clive Barker’s Scarlet Gospels and Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk. It wasn’t that these were bad books – I’d have just ignored them otherwise. I was shocked by mediocre work from such great talents.

So far in 2017 I’ve read 45 books, although I expect to catch up on 2016 after my Autumn holiday (I have a load of Le Carre books waiting on my Kindle). Likely best-of-the-years include Chalk by Paul Cornell, John Higgs’s stunning Watling Street (a review is currently in my drafts folder), and I hate the internet. But I’m desperate for a few more mindblowing ones. Recommendations welcome!

Why bother making my own food

Yesterday I cat-sat for the friend who is looking after my chilli plant. The thing is massive now, dominating her dining room table. And, on one of the branches, is a single red chilli. Just one chilli on one branch, that is. But it looks pretty tasty and is probably ready for harvesting soon.

Given that I can buy a bottle of Encona for a pound, the effort to grow this single Scotch Bonnet pepper seems ludicrous. And there have been all the costs – buying plant pots and compost and baby bio so I can dote on the plant with special food. This is a lot of effort for a single chilli.

This leads me to think that the farmers growing the chillis for Encona sauce are a lot better at it than me. If that was my job, the world would have just a single spoonful of Encona each year. Based on this performance, growing my own food is unlikely to be cost-effective.

Michael Pollan repeats a similar argument about cooking near the start of his book Cooked. He quotes an op-ed by the couple who write the Zagat’s guides, where they suggest “people would be better off staying an extra hour in the office doing what they do well, and letting bargain restaurants do what they do best.” Pollan sees this argument as simple division of labour, the cooks using their talents while the rest of us focus on our own skills.

Of course, Pollan spends the rest of his book explaining why we should learn to cook, but that basic argument still seems persuasive. And it is worth questioning the narrative, promoted much of the media and spearheaded by Jamie Oliver, that true freedom lies in learning how to cook dishes from scratch.

A couple of reviews have picked out a passage from Johnathan Meades’ new book, the Plagiarist in the Kitchen, where he questions the fetish for home-cooked food, “Homemade begs one question. Whose home? Have you ever actually seen people’s homes? Why should biscuits made at home be better than those baked in a factory, a factory that specialises in biscuits?

The Angry Chef spends often attacks the guilt people are made to feel about food. While he is often attacked as an industry shill, he points out that people are too overworked and stressed to be making every meal from scratch – and being educated about ‘processed’ food, enables sensible choices to be made.

I’ve blundered along for about 20 years now, feeling guilty about the mix of home-cooked meals, fast food and tinned food in my diet. I’m still alive, so I guess I’m doing that OK. I still want to learn how to cook better, but the issue is more complicated than books on healthy eating make it sound. Cooking has to fit into a busy life, and seem worth the effort.

That said, I am looking forward to eating my single chilli soon. There’s not enough to make sauce, so I will eat it raw. But I will save the seeds for next year.

A business trip walk – Ulysses Episode 1 – Telemachus

Working regularly in Dublin over the next few months seemed like the perfect opportunity to read Ulysses. The book describes travels around Dublin on June 16th 1904, and I thought I would visit a new chapter’s location on each visit. I’d run out of project before I ran out of chapters, but I could come back and do the last sections on a holiday.

I read the first chapter on the flight over. I know Ulysses is a great book – during my MA I read a lot of essays about it – but I’ve not made it through the text. I’ve enjoyed the bits I have read, although that was with the heavily annotated Oxford World’s Classics 1922 text. The footnotes and forewords explain some of the jokes and allusions. Reading the first episode without these hints is less exciting. The references are hard to parse and it’s mostly a stilted conversation.

After the day’s work we took the DART to Sandycove station and walked along the shore. The weather was pretty good and we regretted not bringing swimming costumes to take advantage of the sea-swimming lagoons (the Forty Foot appears in the book). The water was cold, but would still have been perfect after a day’s walk. We settled for paddling instead.

It was easy to find the martello tower where Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. Since we’d come after work, the museum was closed, but I enjoyed the strangeness of being in a place I’d read about on the flight over.

We had a meal then decided to continue walking around the coast, to pick up a train from Dún Laoghaire station.  We found ourselves near a jetty and Tara suggested we stroll along that. Lots of people were out promenading. The gentle breeze and setting sun, the boats rocking in the water. It was perfect.

I’m not sure an impromptu stroll along a jetty counts as a hike as such, but it was a lovely way to unwind. And, being a mile out to see, it was just the right length for a post-dinner walk.

Even then, although it was getting dark, we didn’t quite make it to the station. There was a bar on one of the hotel lawns with tables laid out in front of the view. It was the perfect end to a good day’s work.

The irony is that my future trips to Ireland are not going to be to Dublin, ruining my plan of exploring Ulysses. Instead I’ll be working from another office, in Kilkenny, some distance away. According to Atlas Obscura, this is near to the grave of Santa Claus – although this is in the grounds of a stately home, which will be long closed by the time I’ve finished work. This is the problem with business travel – you visit amazing locations and don’t get to enjoy them fully.

PS – Ulysses also has a link to Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, one of the people profiled in John Higgs’ book, Stranger than we can Imagine. According to wikipedia:

The 1920 prosecution in the US [of Ulysses] was brought after The Little Review serialised a passage of the book dealing with the main character masturbating. Legal historian Edward de Grazia has argued that few readers would have been fully aware of the orgasmic experience in the text, given the metaphoric language. Irene Gammel extends this argument to suggest that the obscenity allegations brought against The Little Review were influenced by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s more explicit poetry, which had appeared alongside the serialization of Ulysses.

A walk to the Devil’s Punchbowl

When I told a friend that I was downloading a walk from a blog, he pointed that out I wouldn’t download software from a blog and should be just as careful with route maps.

I had to go walking with Helen because she had a pile of my tents. I had a full car returning from the Port Eliot Festival, so handed off some cargo, which gave us a great excuse for getting together to go hiking. We considered a few different locations, finally settling on a walk near the Devil’s Punchbowl. With a little research, I found a route on out-of-the-loop.com, The Devil’s Punch Bowl and Surrey Heaths.

We picked the Devil’s Punch Bowl as it was near to Helen, and arranged to meet at Haslemere station, shuffling the cars to leave one at each end. It turns out there is more than one Haslemere and we started the day at different ones – my plan to save driving had not worked out so well. Still, this gave me chance for a second breakfast and we still set off fairly early.

The walk took us from Haslemere Station to Bentley and the scenery, particularly around Frensham, was stunning, with brightly coloured heather moors and scenic hills. We passed fish ponds once owned by the Bishop of Winchester. As I learned at Miranda Kane‘s show Crossbones, the position also used to involve running brothels in London. The reeds at the shore once stood in for the banks of the Nile in the movie The Mummy.

 

The Devil’s Punch Bowl is a stunning landscape, a natural amphitheatre at the top of a valley. I’d not realised there was landscape this amazing so close to where I live. This site was formed after the devil dug out the Dyke near Brighton. Hearing a cock crowing he leapt from the Dyke, causing the crater when he landed.

This was originally the site of the main London to Portsmouth Road until 2011 when it was re-routed by a tunnel. It’s hard to imagine what this landscape was like before that. Nearby is Gibbet Hill, which was the site of a gallows where tarred bodies were hung in cages as a warning to highwaymen. The site is now marked with a Celtic cross.

It’s possible to look out from Gibbet Hill towards London and, on a fine day (like when we visited), the skyscrapers are visible 41 miles away in the distance. Nearer by, is Box Hill, which I’d visited on the North Downs Way.

And how did the downloaded instructions work? Pretty well. They were published a few years ago and a few landmarks such as noticeboards had disappeared. But we had maps and knew roughly where we were headed so it worked out pretty well. The landscapes were some of the finest I’ve seen in the South East, and I might not have visited without this guide.

Looking at the pictures on the website, they seem to have been taken in winter. It was interesting to see how the seasons affected the directions. Sometimes, the guide described landmarks that weren’t visible from a distance, hidden by the growths of summer.

A good walk, and one that will be worth revisiting in the future.

In Search of Andy Goldsworthy

Yesterday, for the second time, I failed to follow the Andy Goldsworthy sculpture trail around West Dean. The first attempt was a couple of years back, with my friend Sophie. That time we were defeated by mud and unreliable directions, with Sophie announcing  that “I’m not sure who this Andy Goldsworthy fellow is, but I don’t want anything more to do with the man.”

It’s probably a good thing we did turn back on that trip, since I’d not realised that the end of the trail would have left us about 3 miles from where we’d parked. I’m not sure Sophie would have liked that surprise.

My walk yesterday was with another friend, John, part of a day exploring West Sussex. We started with a visit to Kingley Vale and its forest of yew trees, some of them thought to be 2000 years old. Many of the tree’s centres have been rotted out by a fungus called ‘Chicken of the Woods’. And, yes, wikipedia’s entry on this does include a link to the tastes-like-chicken entry.

It’s pretty impressive to be near a living thing that is that old. Apparently the area was a firing range used by British and Canadian troops in the preparations for D-Day, and some of the trees contain bullet-holes. On the hill above the yews are some amazing views down to the sea:

Our first failure of the day was an attempt to visit the Clock Trust Museum, said to be the location of a working time machine. Sadly this is now by appointment only, so we continued on to the not-amusingly-named village of Cocking, the start of the Goldsworthy sculpture trail.

The trail features over a dozen chalk boulders along a five-mile stretch of the south downs. Some accounts say 13, others 14 – which fits in with the folklore about stone monuments being impossible to count. We set off uphill, along a stretch of the South Downs Way. I’d walked this last August but had no memory of the particular path until I turned back and saw the view towards Cocking, which finally sparked some memories.

The leaflet and map for the trail makes it sound straightforward. The first time we turned back because of mud and unsuitable footwear after finding just one of the boulders. This time, because of weather, we also stopped after one stone. While I would never turn back because of rain, John had come out only in light clothes and would have soon been soaked to the skin. We retreated to Uppark, a National Trust property in search of food and history – which we found, although we paid a high price for both.

We ended the day with a climb to see the Vandalian tower, a folly erected in 1774 to celebrate the founding of the American state of Westsylvania. When the colony failed, the site was abandoned and now lies in ruins, protected by fences and dire warnings.

At some point, I need to come back and make a serious attempt to see these stones. Not because I’m that big a fan of Goldsworthy – I like his art, but not three trips worth – rather, I just hate the idea of having failed at such a simple hike.

The weirdest thing about the day was finding myself on sections of the South Downs Way and finding it so hard to recall the landscapes. I’d have expected the scenes to stick in my head. It took a few minutes before I realised that I had also been to Harting Down.

The Lives of Three Wattles, the Life of a Hound;
The Lives of Three Hounds, the Life of a Steed;
The Lives of Three Steeds, the Life of a Man;
The Lives of Three Men, the Life of an Eagle;
The Lives of Three Eagles, the Life of a Yew;
The Lives of Three Yews, the Length of an Age.

—Traditional

Walkerpunk

My approach to walking can probably be summed up by my boots and how inappropriate they are.

My first long walk was in August/September last year. I’d done some epic day walks, but nothing longer. I’d been meaning to walk the South Downs Way for a long time – probably twenty years or more. Finally, I picked a date and committed to it.

I walked the route in my DMs. By the end of the fourth day, standing in bare feet was agony. I hobbled and limped my way through the last two days, aching but undefeated. And a lot of people asked me what I thought I was doing by walking in DMs. I figured it was better to walk in the wrong footwear than not at all.

The thing is, if I’d had to get the right boots, I wouldn’t have gone. Organising the walk, packing, and so on was enough trouble. If I’d had to invest in a expensive footwear, with all the doubt and uncertainty over that… the walk would not have happened. So I set out and dealt with the consequences. It wasn’t a great decision, but it was the right one. And, actually, a lot of people make hiking sound far too difficult.


Many years ago, the punk fanzine Sideburns printed a famous picture (later reprinted in Sniffin’ Glue). It showed three guitar chords and declared: “here’s one chord, here’s another, and another: now form a band”. The great thing about punk was that it made it seem easy to form a band and play music. And while punk spawned hundreds of terrible single-gig bands, it also produced raw and exciting bands that would never have existed otherwise. That punk spirit is an amazing thing.

And that’s the approach I have to hiking. It’s supposed to be simple, something anyone can do. You can make it as difficult as you like, or straightforward. You don’t even need to get to a trail: like Will Self, you can set out from your own door, and walk as far as you can. It doesn’t require exotic expeditions: Alastair Humphreys has written a lot about microadventures. You don’t even need to go anywhere new – the situationists came up with strategies for defamiliarising well-known neighbourhoods.

And I’m not the only person to have taken a slipshod approach to footwear. Even proper walkers like Tristan Gooley get this wrong. In the introduction to his Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs, Gooley describes a walk made in his twenties, from Scotland to London. Three weeks in, crossing the peak district, Gooley encountered some proper walkers, with all the right gear. They warned that he probably didn’t want to continue in his “£19 trainers”, then asked where he came from. Gooley took pride in shocking the walkers by saying he had come from Scotland.

I’ve got the boots now, but I still take pride in looking nothing like a proper walker.  In my heart, I’m not walking because I’m boring or middle-aged. In my heart, walking is subversive and thrilling. I’m not a walker. I’m…

The October Ritual

At the start of the year, one of my favourite bands in the world, The Indelicates, got in touch about collaborating on a launch event for their album Juniverbrecher. We decided the best way to do this was with a magic ritual to end Brexit.

There’s a clear precedent for this sort of thing. In 1967, the Yippies set up a ritual to levitate the Pentagon in protest at the Vietnam war. Even if you’ve not heard of this event, you’ll have seen some of the photos from it, when hippies placed flowers in the soldiers gun-barrels. There are some great stories about the day, with Arthur magazine’s novella sized account being a great place to start.

One of the best parts of running this event is helping to put the bill together. One of the support acts will be John Higgs, whose book Watling Street explores what it means to be British. I now know John in person, but I read his first book, a biography of Timothy Leary back in 2010, when Scott Pack gave me a review copy. Each book since has been increasingly strange and powerful. Watling Street draws together a lot of strange threads, and talks about national identity as something positive and inclusive. It’s a great book and each time I’ve seen John talk about it has been enthralling. We will be announcing additional support in the coming weeks.

Aleister Crowley defined magick as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will” – although, in this case, we’re going against the supposed will of the people. We’re really excited to welcome ritual magician Cat Vincent to carry out the binding and exorcism that will defeat Brexit. I first met Cat at John Reppion’s Spirits of Place event, where he gave a talk about, among other things, his 2014 working which is still leading to strange and wonderful ripples – the next one being September’s Festival 23 event in Brighton, “Is a hotdog a sandwich?”

The album itself is fantastic. The previous Indelicates record, Elevator Music was more optimistic – this is a bit more like 2013’s Diseases of England. I might use the word ‘hauntology’ to describe this new record, if that word hadn’t be banned. Besides which, this album has some great tunes, which a lot of hauntological music doesn’t bother with. It focusses on the darker things that led up to Brexit, a Britain where the figures of Mr. Punch and Jimmy Saville lurk in the boiler room. My favourite track, Everything English, contains the lyric “We told you so”. Given the scathing predictions in earlier Indelicates records, it’s amazing they didn’t use that for the title of the record; and all of the lyrics.

There might have been ways to deliver a great Brexit but what we’ve been given is a fiasco. I’ve read Daniel Hannan, I’ve tried to understand what we are getting out of this, and I am baffled. A mixture of pride, spite and arrogance is about to send us rushing into a massive, complex restructuring of our society. It’s like a GCSE student turning up to perform heart surgery. It’s a mess, a fiasco, and we’re about to be isolated and  trapped and on an island full of ghosts.

Unless… something wonderful and magical happens to stop this. If you want to see our attempt, tickets are available now…

Lonely Planet

In 1972, Tony and Maureen Wheeler travelled overland through Asia, all the way from England to Australia, arriving with just 27 cents in their pockets. On returning to England, people kept asking for the details of their journey, so much so that the Wheelers decided to make a guidebook. In 1973 they worked at their kitchen table to write, type and staple ‘Across Asia on the Cheap’. (A free editions is available on Kindle) They needed a company name, so took Lonely Planet from a song called ‘Space Captain’ by Matthew Moore – although later learned that the actual lyric was ‘Lovely Planet’.

The guide book was evangelical about the idea of making the overland journey, explaining that for the price of an airline ticket between England and Australia, one could travel overland for two or three months. Only a few guides were being written at the time and 1500 copies of their guidebook sold in the first week, launching an empire. Another, more complete guide followed, establishing the reputation of the company.

The first Lonely Planet guide took 94 pages to explain the months of travelling through Asia – still finding time to discuss each country’s history and offer a quirky guide to the religions that would be encountered. It explained how to navigate embassies, how to receive post on the way, and some of the organised tours that were available – although you could make the journey alone if you were brave. It even listed countries where you could sell blood if you ran out of money (“Price for Blood in Kuwait is probably the highest in the world, sell a pint or two if you are broke”). The guidebook has a ramshackle charm, with just enough information to work with: “The most useful source of extra info will be your fellow travellers. People coming from the opposite direction will have all the latest on the hassles coming for you.

This first guidebook describes a very different experience for travellers. It suggests signing ‘passing-through’ books at embassies, to leave a trail in case one disappears. It advises carrying a good set of clothes for embassies and borders, even going as far as to recommend haircuts or ‘short-hair wigs’ for getting into Singapore without hassle. That book also has a troubling sense of ethics; talking about the Iranian carpet industry it says that “Strict child labour laws are gradually weakening the industry, so buy now while children are still exploited!”

At this point there were too few travellers to have much effect on Indian food, and Wheeler is disparaging about it. “Can be miserable. India is where you lose weight on this trip.” The Wheelers claim that street stalls and cafés might be unsanitary; the Indian Coffee House in Connaught Place is described as ‘Delhi’s freak bottleneck’; The best food is said to be found on the railway stations. While the book is dismissive of Indian food, it does better than Pakistan’s, which is dismissed in three curt words – “As for India”.

Over the years, the Lonely Planet went from a scrappy publication, giving you just enough information to survive, to something comprehensive and authoritative. The latest editions of the guide to India are around 1200 pages, compared to the 94 which covered the whole route from England to Australia. The Lonely Planet is in the strange position of being by far the most successful tourist guide company in the world, worth $77 million in 2014, while also being denigrated for its effects on the world. Even the first guide was aware of the effect of travellers, complaining that “the charm of Bali shows every indication of being rapidlty eroded by tourists”.

For someone like myself, who is not a natural traveller, the Lonely Planet guides have proved invaluable. They gave me the confidence to explore places I would not have gone to otherwise. At times, they’ve mislead me in entertaining ways – some of the city maps have little value beyond showing you that there are locations within a city and they are in different places. But, while there is much debate over the problems caused by guidebooks, in my life own they have been a power of good.