This book is being sold in aid of charity. I mention this, not because it makes a difference to the quality
of the product or the desirability of buying a copy, but because it puts Ian Middleton's work in context. He is a backpacker
who has travelled all over the world, and he is also an asthmatic, who walks and writes to raise funds for the National Asthma
Campaign. It's an ambitious undertaking.
Because, let's face it, a journey around Ireland by a "foreigner" has been done before. In recent years,
the story's been told, memorably, by both Pete McCarthy and Tony Hawks. Pete McCarthy is a professional journalist, and, moreover,
is of Irish ancestry. Tony Hawks is a professional comedian and comedy writer. Ian Middleton is none of these things, and
it's not to be expected that he will produce something in that league - which of course is why Hot Footing Around The Emerald
Isle hasn't been snapped up by a major publisher.
That doesn't mean it's not worth reading. Mr Middleton's style is uncomplicated, his humour mainstream, and
most of the incidents he recounts, in detail, are hardly earth-shattering. For sheer entertainment value, however, you could
hardly fault him. He writes without McCarthy's satirical edge. He is not merely an innocent abroad - he barely recognises
how far out of his depth he is. For this reason if no other, you have to warm to him.
To begin with, he doesn't even have a clear idea of how to backpack. He wanders around in forests,
with no compass, map or emergency food supply. He tries to walk along dry-stone walls, almost castrating himself in the process.
He misses buses and has to pay the owners of hostels to give him lifts. In short, he's an amateur, one who doesn't always
learn from his mistakes. This is, paradoxically, the one aspect of his writing that makes it worth the effort. Those who seek
any large-scale commercial success must either have a spectacular talent or a unique idea, and I don't predict any such success
for this book, but I do predict that those who pick it up will want to read it to the end.
I did so, partly because I just liked the guy. He is at his funniest when he isn't trying too hard:
"Dermot told me his name was Michael, but when I called him that, he replied, 'My name's Bill.' "
At other times he slips into the over-attention to detail typical of the inexperienced writer:
"Patrick had bought the old hostel that once stood here and had it completely demolished. Apparently it was
a complete dump. He then had this one built in its place."
This can, it's true, be irritating on times, but it's worth putting up with for the major insights into backpacking
life that make this bright, cheerful little travelogue special. To add to its charm, there are the simple cartoons, by Hans
van Well. In style, they remind me somewhat of the original Tintin drawings. So, when Ian wanders unsuspecting into a new
hostel, or fails in his attempts to chat up a couple of glamorous members of the opposite sex, I picture him just as he looks
in the illustrations - fresh-faced, naive, and unquestionably British. All he needs now is a good editor.
And, by the way, overfilling kettles is not an English thing. It's just a man thing.