Growing Old Outrageously by Hilary Linstead and Elisabeth Davies is a travel book that will either delight you with the scope of their retirement adventures and their willingness to have a go at anything or will fill you with fear that you might one day find yourself on holiday with these two eccentric old girls. Liz and Hilary met at school at Cheltenham Ladies College and then found each other again after retirement, despite Hilary being in Australia and Liz in the UK. They were reintroduced by a mutual friend, took their first trip together to Morocco and were soon bouncing around all over the world egging each other on to increasingly outrageous acts of self-embarrassment. Flirting with waiters, accidentally wetting themselves, getting locked in cupboards, offending fellow travellers and having a wild time soon became the norm.
Liz is rude, blunt and prone to preaching but I don’t think she means to be so. She’s constantly criticising Hilary for carrying too much baggage, eating too much, being fat and being unfit. Hilary is brash and prone to lie around the hotel rooms naked and she enjoys winding up Liz by talking to far too many people, getting involved in their problems and then not being able to get rid of them. They are an unlikely couple who somehow, despite all indications to the opposite, came to love travelling together. Each has bad habits and exhibits intermittently shocking behaviour but each has learned to love the other’s eccentricity. At times you can’t help think that neither could find someone in their home hemisphere who was willing to travel with them – but that’s probably unfair. They’re like an old married couple with nothing in common who still manage to rub along together after many years.
I’ve been to many of the places they visit in the book and recognised the authenticity of Hilary’s observations but I also felt the emphasis was often strange. They start in Morocco and Prague – a rather bizarre combination for a single holiday. Next they go to South America then South Africa. Turkey, Australia, a cruise of the Balkans and a trip to lots of Italian cities all follow. Liz imposes on friends in Ireland and the two stay with people they know in Spain for a poetry festival. In the second to last chapter Liz takes over with the ‘planning’ (Liz isn’t much of a planner) with an arty tour of Europe and my favourite is probably the last chapter when they take Hilary’s granddaughter Scarlet to Europe.
Relatively little is written about some amazing places whilst meals or nights drinking in bars and fooling around get far more column inches. I cringed with them when they went on the Balkan cruise from hell and when they met fellow travellers who were utterly clueless, but I also sympathised with their travel companions when Liz went off on tirades about politics or history. Every now and then a random recipe appears. Sometimes it’s a recipe that they learn whilst travelling and other times it’s a recipe from back home. Sticking recipes into books has been quite a trend in recent years but it’s not one I like and I feel doing this adds little to the book.
Although Liz is a published journalist who writes on travel for a newspaper in Pakistan, the entire book is delivered by Hilary. I am still confused at the book being attributed to the pair as co-authors and I wondered if this was Hilary’s joke, getting back at Liz for using her photos in her Pakistani articles without giving credit to Hilary as the photographer. When I first received the book I did worry that we’d be getting both women delivering their story, one chapter from one, the next from the other. I’ve found that in other co-written travel books and it tends to be clunky in the extreme. I was actually glad that there was more continuity, with Hilary as the voice that delivers the story.
Sadly I fear that with the changing economic environment, travellers with the pensions needed to take on the sort of travels that Liz and Hilary have done will be even fewer and father between in future than they are now. However, whether they’re buzzing around the world in luxury or pottering around the UK in a camper van like my parents, I wholeheartedly applaud retired people who embrace the opportunity to get out and see the world. That doesn’t mean I’d want to travel with Hilary and Liz though.
Growing Old Outrageously by Hilary Linstead and Elisabeth Davies
Published by Allen & Unwin, July 2013
With thanks to Allen & Unwin for sending a review copy.
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