Rambling Man by Billy Connolly
Published by Two Roads

BILLY Connolly begins his new book by telling us that as a kid, he “felt like an outsider”.

Unlike Meursault, he hadn’t killed an Arab but there’s hints of Camus’s absurdism about the comedian’s life.

There’s something essentially existentialist and anxious about his performances that suggest a deep inner anger which … wait, WAIT! WTF!!

You can hear him in your head. You can almost hear him shouting “Fuck right off”.

There’s not another human alive who can swear as well as Connolly. The man has a BS detector as finely tuned as the Hubble Telescope and pretentiousness seriously pisses him off. So, let’s start again … Guillaume Connolly: flâneur. His book is subtitled My Life On The Road and the great wanderer duly namechecks his inspirations – Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck.

We might see the Big Yin as a later Beat poet in banana boots. Like Laurie Lee, he loves to walk out one midsummer morning.

The National:

We meet him in a variety of predominantly Anglophone places – Arthur in Illinois, Launceston in Tasmania. And like Walter Benjamin, he thinks: “The Rambling Man should be a philosopher, a historian and a political theorist.”

As with Benjamin, he wants to “look in the shop windows, see the town centre, the monuments”.

Hang on a minute: I’m hyperventilating again. I need to avoid overblown, overripe comparisons. Try another tack. Forget about German thinkers from Frankfurt. Let’s push the French angle… Sir William Connolly, CBE, is our Rabelais – a genius, a connoisseur of nonsense whose humour stresses the lavatorial. A man who has no time to read JRR Tolkien because he’s “fully occupied with my Proust”.

He’s near-permanently viatic as he … STOP! The word “viatic” appears precisely nowhere in Connolly’s travellers’ tales. If he heard you saying “viatic”, he’d nut you. Quelle blague!

Time to sober up. As a serious saunterer (and a man of a certain age) Connolly knows “there’s only one rule to walking in the city – you have to know a place where you can pee”.

As with Jonathan Meades, everything is interesting to Connolly. Loads of experiences are – hear his voice again – BRULYUNT. Despite his Parkinson’s disease, he is remarkably sanguine on the page, indeed jokes about his condition.

His narrative is never rigid, never bradykinetic. His tone is beguiling, endearingly Panglossian. Uh oh, I can hear him shouting again: “YE WHIT?”

Listen, there are many fine gags here, but I won’t spoil them for you. Let’s just say he squeezes humour from subjects as diverse as yodelling, Keith Richards, and the isolated hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk in the Arctic.

And he’s not afraid to share strong opinions on golf or Pastor Jack Glass, who we see “throwing missiles” at the comedian. Consecrated hosts, no doubt.

Connolly is critical of his history teaching – “getting all that shite about Ethelred the Unready, and King Canute” rather than tales of the Orcadian Viking, Magnus Barelegs.

Which brings us back home to Scotland. He’s a massive fan of Arran, has fond memories of scouting at Auchengillan.

You are reminded too of an earlier hymn to aimless wandering – his performance in The Elephant’s Graveyard, that brulyunt 1976 TV play by Peter McDougall.

Connolly is of the view that the Scots are “a nation of Rambling Men”. We are a diasporic people. But he’d barf before using “diasporic” though. And he’d call me a gunzel for sticking it here. Google it.

Rambling Man meanders as pleasingly as the rivers Connolly loves to fish. His stories are the kind you couldn’t make up, ones that revel in life’s ludicrousness.

One minute he’s dodging a beating from Hell’s Angels, another he’s in Nepal playing polo on an elephant with Ringo Starr, and (uh) Steve Strange.

Connolly, the man, contains multitudes. See him by the piano in Malta with Harry Nilsson. Hear him in the Arctic playing T. Rex on his banjo. Gasp when he’s in bed with Sharon Stone.

He decries his learning and jokes that he doesn’t “have much of a head for anything” but he’s always been whip-smart. He knows his Shelley, his Freud, but he’s rooted in the real world of the dawdler. We’re very, very lucky to have him.

Is Rambling Man funny? Is it sweary? Of course it is, ya daft fuck.