You can take the man out of the city, but is the countryside ready for him? Comedian and born and bred townie, Tony Hawks is not afraid of a challenge – or indeed a good bet. He’s hitchhiked round Ireland with a fridge and taken on the Moldovan football team at tennis, one by one. Now the time has come for his greatest gamble yet – turning his back on comfortable city life to move to the wilds of the West Country.
Once Upon A Time In The West Country by Tony Hawks Review
A Chilled Out Read Peppered with Hoots of Laughter!
I have long been a Tony Hawks fan. Tony the writer that is, not Tony the skateboarder. Although I am told he is very talented too. So imagine my delight when one day after visiting my sister-in-law, I spied a Tony Hawks lookalike leaving the village fete… and then months later it transpired that my sister-in-law and her partner had in fact befriended Tony Hawks – or vice versa, thus my lookalike spotting skills are pretty good even at 30 miles an hour after a cider or two in the sunshine. Don’t worry, I wasn’t driving!
But then it is hardly surprising they count themselves among his new circle of friends…
Tony does go to a lot of effort to make new buddies in his first book in (don’t quote me here but I think I am more-or-less right!) about a decade, Once Upon A Time In The West Country. He befriends micro pigs, farmers, tractor drivers, and steely motorists who refuse point blank to reverse back up country lanes when the closest pull-in spot is categorically on THEIR side – I know it is because I have also driven up and down said lane! And when he is not chatting to locals, cursing the barbers for being shut on a bloody Wednesday after an epic however many mile bike ride up and down 70% gradient hills, or asking Ken to help him with every new and unfathomable experience in his and partner Fran’s new life in the country, he is pushing himself out of his comfort zone at the ladies’ zumba class (and rather unattractively hoisting his joggers up), finding himself randomly involved in the buzz of the Bingo scene and getting his manhood stung by insects. Not to mention preparing for the epic home birth of his first child.
Once Upon A Time In The West Country is a must for anybody who has ever lived in the sticks.
Yes, the pockets of laughter are definitely more sporadic and spaced apart than they were in Tony’s previous books such as Round Ireland with a Fridge and Playing the Moldovans at Tennis. But that is a reflection of two things: 1) He is a little older, a little wiser and a little less spontaneous in his outlook on life. At least that is what he would have us believe at the outset. But soon we find him up to his usual antics, suspending himself from a tree to invent a new swimming mechanism, cycling from one side of Devon to another with a pig called Titch for company, and offering his hilarious musings on people, The Universe (unlike me, Tony doesn’t appear to subscribe to the theory of the Law of Attraction!) and wholly unsuitable but funny baby names in lieu of the impending birth. And: 2) Well d’uh, there is always going to be a transition when going from fast to slow. Tony and Fran have left behind the chaos and speed of London, their home of decades, and moved, quite literally, to pastures new, where time – in many cases – ceases to even exist.
Once Upon A Time In The West Country is a must for anybody considering life at a slower pace.
Tony has an innate way of writing which captures the essence of what it is to immerse oneself in rural life. As a child of Somerset, his eloquent (and at times not very eloquent!) use of language transported me right back to my Nan’s garden in the village of Meare; scones, cream and homemade jam, cows mooing as a backdrop and the hearty smell of pungent cider. He brings the characters of his parish brilliantly to life. They all sound like my Great Aunts and Uncles and that kind of nostalgic feeling when curled up with a book is, well, quite priceless.
Once Upon A Time In The West Country is a must for anybody who is stressed out.
It is almost like therapy to take half an hour out and unwind with Tony’s bird’s eye view of tranquility, putting life into perspective, and all things chilled out. In fact the only stress in this book is the flutter of Tony’s nerves contemplating fatherhood in his early 50s. I must confess, as a bereaved mum to a stillborn baby, I did find the home birth chapter a little distressing and difficult to get through… (not that my own experience happened at full-term, but I have sadly come to know many parents for whom medical intervention arrived too late) and I was utterly relieved when Tony and Fran’s Little One arrived safely. But I was also in awe of Fran for her determination to listen to her body. She really did know what was best for her and her family.
Yes, my signed copy of Once Upon A Time In The West Country – cool birthday present, or what! – sits on my bookshelf… in almost mint condition (the kids can’t resist looking at the cute piggy in Tony’s bike basket on the front cover) and will no doubt be thumbed through again and again when I long to indulge in a West Country daydream or a laugh.
And Tony, who describes himself as having a ‘level of fame that makes me look familiar to 10% of the population, who struggle to work out why,’ may just find it’s now nearing that magical 15% mark!
Next challenge, Tony: Skipping the length of the UK.
I emailed you from an office in Bath with that proposal a decade ago and you said you’d consider… Remember? I am sure it was the promise of an afternoon cuppa and cake that did it.
What about if I throw in a jug of Pimm’s as well?
Once Upon A Time In The West Country, by Tony Hawks, is published by Hodder & Stoughton