Two pensioners in a boat set sail on a new adventure

Terry and Monica Darlington
Terry and Monica Darlington
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Terry Darlington has released his third and final book on extreme narrowboating. James Nuttall spoke to him.

Terry Darlington was 70 when he published his first book, Narrow Dog to Carcassonne. A comedy best-seller, it was shortlisted for the Saga Award for Wit in 2007. It also became the number one audio book in America.

Darlington has published two more books since then, both to critical acclaim.

His first two books were true accounts of trips he took on board his boat, the Phyllis May, with his wife Monica and their whippet Jim and the third instalment follows in much the same vein. Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier, relates the tale of the Darlington family’s journey (this time with a new canine addition Jess) from their home town of Stone in Staffordshire to the North, through Yorkshire and ending in Lancaster.

Although not quite as ambitious as Terry’s previous adventures, which saw him take the Phyllis May to the South of France and the Gulf of Mexico, navigating the waterways of England had its challenges.

“I’m not as fit now as I was,” says Terry. “But in my early 70s I was fit as a flea, I was running half marathons. I’ve always been a fairly busy bee. It’s only been in the last week or so that I’ve really slowed down and I’m really looking around for what the hell to do next.”

Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier differs from Terry’s earlier books for two reasons. Firstly, they are travelling on board a different boat. After their beloved Phyllis May was destroyed in a boatyard fire, the Darlingtons invested in a new boat, the PM2.

The most notable difference, however, is in the way the book – part travel odyssey, part biography – is written. Terry decided to weave his life story into his latest adventure after his agent told him it would be a good idea to write his memoirs.

“About half of it is memoirs,” he says. “People have always been interested in how I got onto my boat, where I came from and what I’d done with my life.

“I had never really quite understood why. I was doubtful too whether a two-track book would work, but as I got into it, it was quite straight forward.”

Terry has gained a worldwide fan base as a result of his three books. “I get a tremendous kick from the fact they are enjoyed by people all over the world. I get letters from Indonesia and Poland, saying that the books are important to them. Young and old people seem to like them. I think humour is a bit of a universal language.

“Everyone has their favourite bits, and what is very encouraging is that they are always different. There’s nothing funnier than a narrator who makes a fool of himself!”

While Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier brims with Terry’s trademark humour, it also addresses serious issues such as the snobbery he witnessed while at Oxford University.

“I think there is quite a lot of hidden politics in the book. There’s quite a lot about class and Oxford. And it hasn’t changed; the selection procedures and the attitudes there haven’t really changed. It’s a very, very old-fashioned place.”

As the narrowboat makes its way north, Terry has cause to reflect on his marriage and the various ups and downs of his life.

The Darlingtons’ adventures are not quite over. Terry and Monica still own their boat, the PM2, and were on board as recently as last week, on holiday.

However, Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier was partly written to please the many fans who wrote to him, asking for the follow-up to the previous two books and having fulfilled this request, Terry does not see himself putting pen to paper again.

“I’m 77 now,” he says. “I think I’m going to have a quiet few years.”

Extract from the new book

“I am old and I’ve been around and have lots of memories.

I have been much blessed but like most of us I have made a lot of mistakes, suffered my share of humiliations, caused unfair grief to the innocent and generally ballsed up any amount of stuff. Now it was all coming back to me.

Sometimes you are moored on the side of the cut and you have no fenders because they came off at the last lock. When a boat comes by you swing against the side, but not with a thud, with a hard knock that runs up your whole body.

This is how the memories were returning – my mental fenders had gone and I was crashing against the follies of my past.”

Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier by Terry Darlington is published by Bantam, priced £9.99.