Without being too mystical about it, there’s something magical about Alan Bennett. When I want to remind myself what truly good writing is, I pull out his essay collections Writing Home, and Untold Stories.
Here’s an excerpt from his 2014 London Review of Books diary entries (an excerpt of an excerpt), and dammit, isn’t this just freaking magical? Looks at what he does here. Under the guise of the most casual and offhand observation but he paints a vivid socio-geographical picture in just over 150 words:
5/6 July, Yorkshire. Watch various stages of the Tour de France on TV more out of an interest in the topography than the cycling itself, which is hardly a spectator sport and tedious to a degree. The route is thronged with spectators who seem highly excited and anxious to be part of the spectacle, leaning out in front of the bikers, flourishing flags in their faces and generally making the riding more hazardous than it has any need to be, so that when a rider comes off, as happens disastrously at the first day’s finish, it’s hard not to wonder how often the spectators are to blame. The countryside, particularly in Swaledale, is bathed in sunshine and looks spectacular, especially from a helicopter, though since part of the object of the exercise is to fetch more tourists in, I have mixed feelings about its attractions. Most memorable is the scene on Blubberhouses Moor when the cyclists stream over into Wharfedale watched by onlookers capping the most inaccessible crags.
Alan Bennett is the Fred Astaire of writing. He’s dancing on air here, making it look easy.