Gap years and travel adventures are often for young people, they say. When I tell anyone about my latest trip, I often hear “I wish I had travelled when I was your age. Now it’s too late.” Is it though? This book is probably the best advice I would give. I am not saying it’s easy, I am not saying Timothy didn’t have a financial advantage, but he had a dream and eventually he found an opportunity to live it.
“I’d like to travel, but Isobel . . . well, she’s got so many commitments – charity work, that sort of stuff”
“What about doing it on your own?”
“I couldn’t really do that. I’d be selfish, gadding off and leaving Isobel behind.”
Mr Gandy’s Grand Tour is Alan Titchmarsh’s – yes, the gardener and TV presenter – latest novel about Timothy Gandy, a husband and father, who suddenly finds himself in early retirement. His dream had always been to travel around Europe, or at least some of it. Not a backpacking trip as is common now, no eleven countries in eleven day tours, but a traditional Grand Tour as the young men of means did from the 16th to 18th century. Timothy’s dream is loosely based on his copy of Anthony Burgess’ The Age Of The Grand Tour.
Thumbing through its pages, which offered up that fragrance unique to ancient paper, a mixture of mustiness and acrid aroma compounded of antique print and paper. A few weeks, or perhaps a month or two, of seeing Europe at his leisure awoke within him feelings that he thought were no longer capable of entering his consciousness.
After his wife passes away he is left with a choice of how to spend the rest of his life. And this is where the book is an inspiration: Mr Gandy decides to never stop exploring and never stop learning; about the world, about life, and about himself.
Excited and a little apprehensive. Wondering what will happen along the way and . . . if it will change me, I suppose. Alter my outlook on life. (…) I don’t want to come back the same man I was when I set off. Yes; I do want to change, in that I want to be more positive . . . and to find out a bit more about myself.
Today he had been like a boy in a sweet shop, anxious to try everything on offer – to soak up a city of which he had heard so much but which, bizarrely, he had never before visited despite its relative closeness and ease of access via the Channel Tunnel.
It was a wonderful read, full of well-rounded characters. Although characterised by some as a love story, I only see the love of a man for art, life, and the world. His endeavours, though sometimes fuelled by female friends, are much bigger. He is – for the first time in his life – on a journey to discover more about himself. He meets a number of interesting people on the way, the places he sees are seen and described through his artistic eye, and all the strings come together beautifully at the end.
Mr Gandy’s Grand Tour, by Alan Titchmarsh
First published September 2016