Friday, October 15, 2004

McCarthy's Wake.

Pete McCarthy, humorist and travel writer, died earlier this week of cancer. [BBC]

I hadn't really heard of McCarthy -- or his best-selling books "McCarthy's Bar" and "The Road to McCarthy" -- until I was assigned to interview him when he passed through Toronto last October. He was as charming in person as he is in his books, which are funny, anecdotal tales of his trips around the world.

McCarthy -- who started his career writing and performing with a theatre company called Cliffhanger -- was one of those guys to whom strange coincidences happened all the time. For instance, the day I interviewed him was the same day that I interviewed actor Pete Postlethwaite.

Yes, they're both famous Petes, but the bigger coincidence was that both came from Warrington in northwest England. In fact, Posthewaite was a prefect at McCarthy's high school when he was in first year. Basically, they're the only famous artistic people to ever come out of Warrington -- "a small, deeply unfashionable little town in the North of England that's always in the shadow of Liverpool and Manchester," McCarthy described it for me -- and I interviewed them one after another in a city across the ocean. McCarthy marvelled at that. He also marvelled at the fact that we had both read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at the same age, a decidedly less coincidental coincidence.

Over a pint, McCarthy and I had a great chat about coincidence, and whether some people are actually more prone to it than others or if some people are just more open to it and therefore notice the weird synchronicities of life more often.

I'm fairly certain that it's the latter. McCarthy was one of those people who see connections between everything and constantly have "chance encounters." It's people like that who make the best storytellers, those who can make a trip to a pub sound like the most incredible and hilarious adventure of all time.

I'm sad to hear he's passed on. My condolences to his wife and three young daughters.

+ Pete McCarthy's official website.
+ My article from the Post last year.

Post-script

By the by, in my interview with him, McCarthy -- who was half-English and half-Irish and visited Ireland every year -- had something to say about the old Guinness debate:

"One thing that people always want to know is: Is the Guiness really that much better in Ireland than it is anywhere else? My feeling [is] that the gap has been eroded in the last ten years. As happens with lots of global products, the local idiosyncracies are ironed out. So, there used to be a huge difference between a pint in Ireland and a pint in England and now there's a barely perceptible difference."

He then took a sip from his Toronto-poured Guinness and added: "This is pretty good."

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