The World Of: Stephen Graham


You probably haven't heard of Stephen Graham. His books came out in the 1920's, sandwiched between the Victorian predilection for poking into the dark corners of the planet, and the post war boom that made it much more feasible and affordable to do so.  But he was a true, hopeless, bewitched, soppy beyond words romantic of the genre. Have you read anything by Robert MacFarlane? Stephen Graham was a muse for him. But as company for a pint?

His motive was modern enough. 'What a relief it is 'to escape from being voter, tax-payer, authority on old brass, brother of man who is an authority on old brass, author of best seller, uncle of author of best seller, what a relief to cease being for a while a grade-three clerk, or grade-two clerk who has reached his limit, to cease to be identified by one’s salary or by one’s golf handicap.’  

No chance of a career in programming then! This is a bloke who went quite a stretch to avoid a golf course in both his meanderings and his career. I will lift information from Michael Hughes lovely website (link below) simply because he summarises it better than I can. 'He lived in Russia in the turbulent years before the 1917 Revolution and served in the trenches in northern France in 1918.  In the 1920s he became friends with literary figures ranging from H.G. Wells to Ernest Hemingway.  He spent much of the 1930s in Yugoslavia - living and writing in the Julian Alps - although in Belgrade he was widely believed to be a British spy.  And then in the Second World War he worked for the BBC, broadcasting to Yugoslavia, both when it was occupied by the Germans and 'liberated' by Stalin's Red Army".  

He was one the earlier travel writers who had a 'touchy feely' style, rather than just reporting on the sights. In 'The Gentle Art of Tramping' Graham extolls the simple pleasures and the idea that travelling light was travelling without cares and that the pleasure lay in the journey and not the destination. 'Even the crookedest road is sometimes too straight' he says, and  'The less you carry the more you will see, the less you spend the more you will experience'. He further suggests that 'a morning swim is such an embellishment of the open-air life.  

I buy much of that. It is an escape of sorts and travelling light can add wings to your feet. Mind you, I wouldn't trade in my Paramo for his tweed jacket; and good footwear makes travelling on foot a lot easier, as I discovered when I hiked up Mount Kenya, in the days before global warming cost it a glacier or two, in a pair of those old Clarke's walking shoes with animal track prints on the sole! Or hiking arctic Norway in the 70's wearing an impervious rubberised waterproofs that served best as a travelling sauna.  And as for that morning swim, as a recipe for starting the day, that sounds to me to be bordering on self-harm and slug porridge. 

Gents, I am not buying his recommendation that you should test the matrimonial suitability of your beloved by taking them wild camping, just to see what happens when the wet nose of the wildlife connects with the flesh in the wee small hours. Ladies, this man married his beloved and promptly set off for a stroll around the Caucasus for a year. I don't believe he took her with him. You make your own mind up. 

Although he was a bit of a God-botherer which grates a bit on a cynical old atheist like me, he seems to have been quite liberal in his view that true spirituality lay in the Russian peasantry.  So I will pass on that too. But overall, he has to be worth a pint, doesn't he? Perhaps in his later days when he might have slowed down a bit and was living in London  where, presumably, he gave the cold morning dips a miss. 

See :  Stephen Graham World Traveller


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