Friday, 15 October 2010

Rum baba, anybody? (In which I discuss The Exmoor Files, by Liz Jones)

The extracts of this book I’d read before – inevitably, the ones featured in the papers – gave the impression that it portrays Exmoor as a terrible, unfriendly place. Not really: it’s evident that the author does appreciate Exmoor’s beauty, and that she has made some good friends during her time here, as well as upsetting and offending some people. (’Tis ever thus with the media: when we lived in Worcester, I was intrigued to read in the local papers that all the residents of our street were being terrorised by hordes of rampaging students. I think we once heard somebody swear, rather mildly, on their way home from the pub, but can’t be certain that it was a student. Be that as it may though…)

If you’ve never been to Exmoor, do not be put off visiting by the fallout from this book. It is indeed one of the loveliest places on earth, and certainly the friendliest place we’ve lived in. Liz Jones’ main issues are not with Exmoor at all. She much prefers animals to people, including herself. Her chronic low self-esteem combines with a hope that one thing will make her life perfect (getting married? Moving to the country?), to ensure that she won’t be really happy anywhere.

The Exmoor Files is a good read; very funny in places, although cringe-inducing in others (she really lays herself bare, as you’ll know if you’ve read any of her columns). Some things should’ve been better checked – she refers to the Valley of Rocks as the ‘Valley of Stones’, and talks about ‘the’ Tarr Steps. And – wild goats on Dunkery Hill?

Jones writes well, though to me a jarring note is that she is always sat rather than sitting, stood rather than standing (why? why? as the author herself might ask). And some of the running jokes (calling Brian ‘Brain’ and her ex-husband’s flat a hovel) do wear thin.

I’m curious about another recurring motif (or obsession?): rum babas. Never seen one anywhere on Exmoor, Liz, though they’re good when done properly and have a Proustian effect on me, conjuring up memories of sunny holidays in France in the 70s. Maybe we should start featuring them on our menu, as the LJ Special.

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