x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The Snow Tourist

Book review Charlie English sets out in search of the "world's purest, deepest snowfall", but like many of these odysseys, the journey is not about the snow.

What could be more fun than writing a book about snow? Charlie English sets out in search of the "world's purest, deepest snowfall", but like many of these odysseys, the journey is not about the snow, but about the author. He is having something of a mid-life crisis, and is obsessed by a picture of his father in skiing gear, who died when he was just a lad. So he abandons his wife and three small boys - occasionally inviting them to join him on his travels - and sets off on a tour of the world's chilly places.

There is no doubt there is a childlike pleasure in snow. Everybody warmed to the pictures of the snowman on the mountain near Ras al Khaimah. English travels to Canada and the home of the Inuit, where snow was believed to be the home of the soul, visits Breughel paintings in Vienna, and the Snowdrop Inn in Lewes, named to commemorate one of England's worst avalanches, which took out a row of houses and killed most of the inhabitants.

English also writes about the best writers of snowy scenes - Jack London is a particular favourite - great skiers, and, remarkably, even gives a clear account of how to build an igloo. The book has something of the absurdity of that fellow who hitch-hiked around Ireland with a fridge. Travelling may be a pointless activity except for the person doing it, but the trick is not to let on. English is a diverting enough companion, but somehow, as the book bore on, and he lost his nerve on an off-piste skiing trip, then visited Aviemore in Scotland (no snow) and Thompson Pass in Colorado (lots of snow) I had the overriding desire to hurl a snowball at him, in the hope of catching him somewhere in the ear, or down the back of the neck. Perhaps if he ever ventures to Ski Dubai I'll get the chance.

Rupert Wright is the author of Take Me to the Source: In Search of Water, published by Harvil Secker

rwright@thenational.ae