Outside In

While reading a novel, I've often wondered why the author chose a certain location. It has also added to my enjoyment of a book, if it is set somewhere I know or have visited, so I thought I would give you a little insight as to why the characters in Outside In went where they did, and where I got my information.
England: Blewbury & London
France: Marseilles
Germany: Swiss Border @ Basle
Scotland: Glasgow & Troon
Spain: Almeria & Cabo de Gata
Switzerland: Grindelwald & Zurich

Blewbury, England

As a student, I did a year's industrial placement at Culham Laboratory, near Abingdon in Oxfordshire, and for the last six months of my time there, I lived in a rented house a the quaint, little village called Blewbury, near Didcot.

My best mate, who I shared the house with, played for the village football team in the Berks & Bucks league, and I use to train with them once a week. We were very quickly accepted by the other guys in the team, and had some great times with them. I was playing for Abingdon United Reserves at the time in the Hellenic League, and when our season finished, I played four or five games for Blewbury as well. I actually had the luck to score their hundredth league goal of the 1981-82 season, & I've still got the engraved tankard somewhere to prove it!

Back in the early eighties, Blewbury had four pubs and very little else - not even a hill! The Barley Mow (which was the nearest one to the house), the Load of Mischief (which was the regular haunt of the Blewbury Football team), the Blewbury Inn (which was next to the sports ground & cricket pitch) and another one whose name I can't remember.

It is surrounded by villages with equally quaint names, East & West Hagbourne, Aston Tirrold, Aston Upthorpe, Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, etc., and is quite close to the towns of Wantage (where Alfred supposedly burnt the cakes!) and Wallingford. On my way to work each day, I passed through Clifton Hampden, just outside which is the Barley Mow pub, made famous the quote by Jerome K. Jerome in his book Three men In A Boat, "It is without exception the quaintest most old-fashioned inn up the river.".

I really enjoyed my time at Culham, and particularly liked living in Blewbury, so when I needed somewhere for the character of Cameron to live - it was the obvious choice. It was quiet and remote enough for the secret aspects of his character, yet close enough to London for his job.

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London, England

There's not really much to say about the London locations in the book. I based the EW offices in the Fleet Street area, and I described the Printer's Wheel pub from the memory of traditional London pubs I have had the pleasure to drink in over the years. It is however, a pure figment of my imagination, and to my knowledge there is no pub of that name on Fleet Street.

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Marseilles, France

Never been there, and I don't mind if I never go. I based my description of the harbour area on the vague memories I have of the docks in Genua (Yes, I know that's in Italy!), which I had the misfortune to stray into in 1990 when I was there for the World Cup.

At Italia 90, Scotland played two group matches in Genua. They lost to Costa Rica 1-0, through a goal scored by Austin Berry (who ironically went on to play for SC Freiburg - small world!) and beat Sweden 2-1. However, the highlight of the trip was the 2nd round match between Ireland & Rumania, (Eire won 5-4 on penalty kicks with David O'Leary famously scoring the decider). We had tickets as a result of having to buy a book of tickets for all the Genua matches at the start of the tournament.

What has this got to do with Marseilles, or indeed France? Nothing! But, as you may have gathered if you have read Outside In, I could never be accused of being a Francophile. In fact, the only reason it appears in the book at all, is that it is impossible to drive from Spain to Switzerland without passing through it!

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German / Swiss Border @ Basle

During the decade or so that I lived in Freiburg im Breisgau, a beautiful city at the south-western corner of the Black Forest, I crossed this border countless number of times going to & from Switzerland on ski trips to Grindelwald, Davos, Zermatt or Wildhaus; or cricket trips to Cossonay, Bern or Winterthur; or heading for Italy & beyond on holiday.

Approaching the border from Basel

The border crossing itself, is famous (or infamous) in south-west Germany due to the fact that it is mentioned everyday in the radio traffic news, as there is an almost permanent queue of lorries and juggernauts on the German BAB5 motorway waiting to get into Switzerland each morning, caused by the Swiss authorities not allowing them transit at night.

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Glasgow, Scotland

Like the Printer's Wheel in London, Big Tam Gregg's pub in Glasgow, that Cameron visits, doesn't exist. The area I described was based on the side-streets off of Renfield Street near Glasgow Central railway station and those of you who know Glasgow, will be aware that the famous Horseshoe Bar in Drury Street is in this part of the town. Unlike the Tam's imaginary bar, which I tried to make as unappealing as possible, the Horseshoe is a great place to go for a drink and a natter, and I would recommend that if you are in the vicinity of Central Station and you have time for a pint (or three) its well worth the effort to find it.

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Troon, Scotland

Being born and brought up near Kilmarnock, I know Troon fairly well, having played golf on the Fullarton, Lochgreen and Darley course many times and Royal Troon once.

In my youth, I played chess there once (when I beat a geeky kid at Marr College) and football several times - the most memorable occasion being a Youth Cup Final at Portland Park, the home of Troon Juniors, which was (and probably still is) considered to be one of the best playing surfaces in the county. Other than that, we often drive down for a bracing walk along the seafront and beach, followed by an ice cream at Togs Cafe (although the ice cream isn't as good now, as I remember it as a child).

For me, Troon was a fairly obvious choice for Cameron's birthplace. I wanted him to be born and raised in Ayrshire as I wanted him to have certain characteristic's of natives of that area, and Troon's golfing tradition presented a fairly easy and obvious reason for an American millionaire to visit the town.

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Almeria & Cabo de Gata, Spain

Again, I have never actually visited this area. I selected it merely because it was a fairly distinctive part of southern Spain which hasn't yet been overrun by tourists.

Much later I discovered that the famous spaghetti western director Sergio Leone chose the Cabo de Gata National Park to shoot several scenes for A Fistful Of Dollars in 1964.
Ironically, and quite coincedentally, my main character was also a man without a name when he ventured through this area.
Clint Eastwood and Leone returned to Almeria for A Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) to complete "The Man with No Name" trilogy .

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Grindelwald, Switzerland

Kleine Scheidegg, the Lauberhorn, the Monch, the Jungfrau & the Eiger = Grindelwald = Brilliant!

Whether you take the slow mountain railway from Grindelwald-Grund station directly up to Kleine Scheidegg, or the more modern Mannlichen Bubble and ski across the ridge to the point where the Lauberhorn Downhill Track turns towards Wengen, you will be in awe of the north face of the Eiger.

Unlike the picturesque Matterhorn standing alone above Zermatt, the Eiger is part of a small range known as the Bernese Alps. It is however, no less imposing or impressive and IMHO, it is not until you ski the less popular valley run (Blue Piste No.22) down to Branegg, which takes you past the base of the north face, that you realise just what a big lump of rock the Eiger really is.

Me on Piste 22 (but not the Eiger in the background!)

Piste No.22 is a fairly uninspiring skiing challenge, but it takes you down to an excellent mountain restaurant next to Branegg Station, where you can take on refreshments before ascending to Kleine Scheidegg to continuing skiing.

Brandegg Station below the Eiger North face

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Zurich, Switzerland
The first time I set foot in Zurich was towards the end of month long Inter-Rail holiday in 1983. We (my mate Gordon & I) had already travelled through Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia (as it was then), Greece, Italy & Austria (again). My first impression was the amount of graffitti. Not an uncommon sight in inner-city Britain, but not something I had expected in clean, orderly, affluent Switzerland. Gordon was fascinated by an automatic shop we came across in the maze of catacombs under the main railway station - it was a huge vending machine, about the size of a small kiosk and you could buy everything from a loaf of bread & a tin of beans to a crate of beer & a side of ham. Isn't that efficient!

Considering that I lived less than two hours drive away for over a decade, my subsequent experiences of Zurich have been almost non-existent. In fact, apart from leading the Freiburg Nomads to defeat against the Zurich Nomads on a blistering, hot day in July 2003 in a place called Uster on the outskirts of the city, my visits have been limited to changing planes at Zurich Airport and sitting in traffic jams while trying to negociate my way through the city from the end of the A1 motorway, which runs into the city from the west, to the start of the A3 motorway, which leads to the ski resorts of Arosa, Davos, Klosters & Lenzerheide (among others) in the Eastern Swiss Alps.

For the parts of the book set in Zurich, I based my description of Hauptstrasse on memory, and its probably true to say that its based more on memories of Bern & Basle, as they are the two Swiss cities I have visited the most. A friend of mine, Simon Holliday (if you ever need a jazz pianist or band in the Freiburg area - he's your man!), who knows Zurich like the back of his hand, commented that my description of Zurich wasn't completely accurate, as the street running away from the railway station wasn't called Hauptstrasse, and he offered to help me re-write it correctly. I didn't think it was that important for such a small part of the story.

Caroline's house on the shores of Lake Zurich is also pure fantasy. I mean it is a fact that Zurich's elite live in that area, but I have never visited it. I just tried to imagine in my mind's eye what kind of house I would like to have if money were no object.

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