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1958 Girdle Me A Globe - by Eric Nicol

It was a Good Year
1958 must have been a good year for Eric Nicol.  By then, the humorist and writer was a well-established and popular newspaper columnist; he was firmly settled in his beloved Vancouver; he had the means to travel for many months at a time, and his new book, Girdle Me A Globe, had brought him a Leacock Medal for Humour for the third time in less than a decade.  He became the first person to have earned the honour that many times and would remain the only three-time winner for decades.
Eric Nicol had these reasons and more to be happy. Yet a light skimming of that new book could have left some readers thinking that he was a hopeless grumbler.   In the book, Nicol shares his particular take on international travel by drawing upon a year-long, round-the-world trip.   Nicol’s take, like his newspaper columns, focuses on minor adventures and the struggles of an ordinary Canadian, only it is not in Canada; it is on the road, on the rails, in the air, and abroad.

This tendency toward the routine leads him into an intricate detailing of the aggravation of choosing clothes to pack and the befuddling conventions that govern the use of dinner jackets and satin pants on travel status.  He recounts misfortune with foreign laundries in epic terms comparing them to the Odyssey, shudders over the ordeal of standing for hours on cold marble museum floors, and warns would-be travelers with dread of the implications of the multi-gauge Australian rail system.   He cites a hypothetical stay in an old inn where “the food is dreadful and the beds have lumps” as the “solid foundation of real suffering” for future travel war stories.
He is joking, of course, and making fun of himself and those travelers who see the foreign world as exotic and enticing, yet somehow wrong and unjustifiably inconvenient.  But, most of all, he is lampooning the popular approach to travel writing and swaggering travel writers who use their trade as a platform for thinly veiled personal aggrandizement.
The sum of this short book, which might seem on the surface to be a catalogue of funny fussiness or at best a collection of witty essays, is a subtle satire in the best Jonathan Swift tradition.   Labeling Girdle Me A Globe as a compilation of light stories about laundry, trains, and foreign food would be akin to branding Gulliver’s Travels as a children’s book about horses and giants.
It is typical of Nicol to dwell on the everyday activities with which many Canadians can identify while only nonchalantly mentioning his passage through patchy countries like Ceylon and Syria and  cities like Baghdad and Karachi.  Instead of trying to impress us with cocktail-party place dropping, he draws us to international travel by showing it to be something all can access, appreciate, and understand, demonstrating how the core experiences around bathrooms and showers, eating and sleeping, and other necessities have common features everywhere and by showing us that many inconveniences can be wiped away with a laugh and a smile.
He mocks those who see travel as the means to amass imposing stories, not only by filling his own book with minor adventures and non-events, but by advising the reader to merely adopt “a certain manner, a superiority that has no need to assert itself, like that of the veteran of many battles” and assume a mysterious “far-away look” when any dark corner of the world is mentioned in social settings.      
Nicol makes you smile with ease because he seems to be smiling a lot himself, and, again, he had many reasons to smile in 1958.
His trip around the world and book brought Eric Nicol back to the kind of life and theme he had celebrated in his first Leacock Medal book, The Roving I:  the experience of a Canadian abroad.
 The Roving I  was a comical account of his year as a graduate student in Paris. In its teasing introduction,  Nicol jokes that he “would like to thank (his) wife for her unfailing help and encouragement during the preparation of this book” adding “but, I’m not married.” In that first medal-winning book’s concluding pages, he closes off his time in Paris with the melancholy lament of not having “had someone to share it with.”

Eight years later with Girdle Me a Globe, Nicol is not only writing about a world tour, but his honeymoon and dedicating the story to his new wife “who held my hand all the way.”  Again, it was a good year for him.