Surreal and absurd

30th August 1996 at 01:00
Everyone said I should take Moby Dick and Under Milk Wood, since both were filmed in the unspoilt Pembrokeshire Lower Town of Fishguard. And, after all, I was renting the house used for Captain Cat's Cottage in the movie. But I like a challenge - even on holiday. If you want relevant literature, buy a guidebook, I replied. But my efforts to avoid literature that fitted the place failed.

In Bu$uel, John Baxter's marvellous authorised biography of Luis Bu$uel (Fourth Estate, Pounds 8.99), the Spanish surrealist film director, there is a eulogy to one of my all-time favourites: "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a stiletto heel of a film," he says, "relying so totally on balance that one mis-step might bring down the whole construction." Precisely my thoughts as I negotiated the precipitous coastal paths of Strumble Head. Thank God I'd left the stilettos back at the house.

Walking long paths in circles searching for a good meal and a drink at the end is precisely what the petit bourgeois activity of coastal path walking is about - so is the film.

And after seeing numerous stone circles in bizarre places and a notice claiming to be the very spot where Dylan Thomas whopped Augustus John on the nose, I was convinced that surrealism was made for west Wales.

And so I turned from the surreal to the absurd, picking up Anthony Cronin's No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O'Brien (Paladin Pounds 6. 99). I like O'Brien; he can take a depressingly Manichaean view of hell and eternity, as he does in his murder thriller The Third Policeman (Flamingo Pounds 5.99), and still make it a laugh a minute.

Nestling down in Captain Cat's Cottage - on the one day of torrential rain in the fortnight - my mind hoped to stray far from west Wales to the streets of Dublin, as Cronin charted with remarkable compassion the fortunes of the genius destroyed by self-doubt.

But I found the Welsh everywhere, as up from the pages popped Dylan Thomas, describing O'Brien as "the best comic writer I can think of". He's right about that - all in all a much better read than boring old Moby Dick.

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