Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Travels With Macy: Bruce Fogle

Lynn's aunt Ella in Ottowa swears - I'm not kidding - by the daily application of WD40 for her arthritic knees; and so, I discovered from Bruce Fogle's wonderful book Travels With Macy, did the author's father, who died four years ago at the age of 97 (intriguingly he lived not far from Ella, in Toronto).

As you would expect from a practicing veterinarian, Fogle researched the formula for WD40 to make sure it contained nothing harmful, and discovered that it was devised in the 1950s by the San Diego Rocket Chemical Company, who were looking for a 'water displacement' (WD) compound, and found it at the 40th attempt. They added a fragrance which is the source of its distinctive smell - and there you have it.

If you enjoy travel writing, I can thoroughly recommend Travels With Macy. It is witty, involving, incisive (erudite even) - and extremely well written. It is the story of the author's journey round rural and small-town North America, broadly following the route taken by Steinbeck in his 1962 classic, Travels With Charley. For transport, Fogle chose an iconic thirty-year-old GMC motorhome, and for company his golden retriever Macy. Their adventures are recounted with the exuberance of Macy herself, and after covering 10,000 miles in the author's easy company I felt that I had gained a new insight into the rich diversity of a continent which is often surprisingly - and in a nice way - out of step with the march of time.

'Is there anything better', says Fogle, 'than bacon and eggs, buttered toast and dark coffee, all by yourself on a cloudless morning, on a mountain top under the big blue sky of Montana?' Well, no. This is just one of many passages where I found myself nodding, and smiling. I envied him his adventure, and felt so much in tune that when, towards the end of the book, he says, 'I hadn't expected to fall in love', I knew he must be talking about the magic of Northern New Mexico - my favourite place and the setting, surprise surprise, of my current novel-in-progress.

PS: Sad to say, Macy passed away just two years after the book's publication, at the tragically young age of seven. Fogle's son Ben put me onto an obituary piece his father wrote for the Independent, which was picked up by several of the other national dailies. It captures the grief felt by anyone who loses a much-loved pet, and better explains the reasons for it than anything I have ever read. If you would like to read the article, here is the link:
Goodbye Old Girl - how the loss of a man's best friend affects one dog lover
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