Book review: In The Bath

by Tim Fitzhigham

Finer minds than minds have already summed up Tim FitzHigham better than I ever could. Dave Gorman has sad he only exists because PG Wodehouse didn’t invent him first, while The Queen, no less, believes him to be the maddest person in her kingdom.

He is, if you don’t know, a fine British eccentric, a benign, well-bred, google-eyed lunatic who embarks on the most insane adventures, simply for the challenge, then pursues them with a rabid determination and unflagging passion – no matter how seemingly pointless the task.

This book charts his attempts to cross the English Channel in a bath for Comic Relief. What a zany, madcap wheeze!

Only thing is, such a comedy quest is nowhere near as easy as you – or, more specifically, Fitzhigham himself – might think. His own lack of rowing ability was the first hurdle, despite having previously conquered the Thames in a paper boat. But more challenging were the physical and bureaucratic barriers that kept being placed in his path.

To be allowed to tackle the Channel, he had to ensure his vessel was seaworthy; which meant the finished article weighed more than a third of a ton, not the easiest thing to power through heavy storms and across the world’s busiest shipping lane when your extremities are covered with painful blisters.

Oh, and to add to the punishment he subjected his poor battered body too, described in wincing detail, Fitzhigham also recklessly agreed to a bet, for one pint of beer, to row his ablution equipment around the treacherous coast of Kent and up the Thames, as far as Tower Bridge. His foolhardy jape had clearly escalated stupidly out of hand, but the Fitzhigham eccentricity gene would never allow him to back down.

His perseverance and determination is remarkable. But what comes across most in this account of his adventures is the kindness of (most) strangers. It may simply be the modesty he brings to this account, but at almost every turn, disaster is averted by people’s willingness to leap to his aid, eager to invest a lot of their time and effort into a challenge so clearly mad. Such readiness to succumb to the persuasively charming upper-classes is what built us an Empire – even if it also led to subservient troops galloping to their doom in Charge Of The Light Brigade.

Thankfully – and I’m not giving much away here – in this case, all the effort leads to triumphant success, as Fitzhigham has already detailed in an Edinburgh comedy show, which he also called In The Bath.

Understandably, this book is more about the journey than the destination – and his endeavour has more ups and downs than a piece of pluming in a force nine gale. It’s not designed to be tea-snortingly funny, but the ever-evolving story combined with Fitzhigham’s self-effacing approach and light turn of phrase ensures a crackingly entertaining read.

There are some very nice touches – particularly the long list of other books by the same author, followed by the much, much shorter list of other PUBLISHED books by the same author. But the man can clearly write as well as he can now row, so expect this to be the first of many books detailing his bizarre adventures.

Fitzhigham became almost a mythical figure among the tight-knit sea- and river-faring folk of the south east, with rumours of his idiotic venture spreading through the ports of Kent and boathouses of the Thames long before he ever passed through. You suspect they didn’t really believe he really existed, and was simply the figment of an old salt’s imagination.

But thankfully he does exist, and as long as Britain welcomes such passionate eccentricity, we’ll cling on to the most vital part of our national identity. Long live Tim FitzHigham, Commodore Of Sudbury Quay, Freeman Of The Company Of Watermen And Lightermen Of The River Thames, and all-round good egg.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
June 30, 2008

Published: 30 Jun 2008

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