THE CLIVE James of the
written word is an altogether more
acceptable kettle of egotism than that
which appears with irregularity on our
television screens. His ten years as The
Observer's TV critic produced wonderfully
humorous and astute columns and the
travel pieces he penned for the same
paper provide the content of Flying
introduction he outlines his penchant for
air travel, his fascination with forward
thrusts and retractable whatnots, and
recalls his first ascent skywards in a
vehicle piloted by a character
"wearing an eye patch, (he) walked
with a stiff leg and saluted the aircraft
with what appeared to be an aluminium
were the days.
presents local history in jaunty dollops
wherever he goes and takes illuminating,
wit-soaked peeks at the present whether
he's pretending to discuss economics with
inscrutable Japanese economists or being
moved to tears in Los Angeles by
consuming whole the inferno-in-the-mouth
pickle, the Jalapeño.
displays a seething mania for etching
people into their current backdrop. Most
memorably of Thatcher in China:
"Nothing like that skin had been
since the twin potters of Hopei produced
the last piece of their white porcelain
with the searing glaze ... and her eyes
are two purple bolts from the Forbidden
City's Gate Of Divine Prowess, an edifice
which, it was clear from her manner, was
just a hole in the wall compared to the
front door of Downing Street."
Towards England is the latest
instalment of James' Unreliable
Memoirs. It begins as he sets foot
on Southampton docks, fresh faced and
shivering in his Hawaiian shirt, off the
boat from Australia (fare £60, inclusive
of a week's b&b in Earl's Court).
in his element constructing one long
anecdote out of a succession of smaller
anecdotes with himself as the fulcrum. He
roams London from dodgy dwellings in
Earl's Court to dodgy dwellings in
Tufnell Park ("the cutting edge of
Bohemia") and, via a coal barge in
Twickenham, almost back again.
punctuated by a fat-filled vegetable-free
diet, pints of "brown water"
and a recurrent dental dilemma only
resolved after chancing upon Barry,
"the paradigm Australian
though, James' tone is one of confession.
During these years he cadged money, fags,
and sleeping space from friends, used
women as washing machines and even
refused to attend a kindly landlady's
if he's owning up now to ease his burden
at the last trumpet.