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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, September 15, 2006
    Boy on Bicycle, Man in Boats
     
    I feel privileged to have had two travel writers share their excellent work with me recently, two very different pieces of writing from two very different sorts of men but both deeply fascinating and life-affirming in their own way.

    Nick Thorpe's Adrift in Caledonia; Boat-hitching for the Unenlightened describes his thrillingly ambitious journey - a watery hitch-hike around Scotland. Nick's descriptions of the people and places he encountered en-route are consistently entertaining and engrossing and what emerges is a warm-hearted portrayal of the boating people who hosted him on his odyssey. He maintains a sympathetic tone even with the oddest or least helpful characters, and empathises with his hosts and fellow-travellers of all shades. And of course this is no empty-hearted quest but a spiritual journey of sorts, refreshingly non-linear and inconclusive and full of joyful insights. No wonder this book is on the travel section shelves of pretty much any high street bookstore you'll walk into. A delight.

    My friend Jim's book, Boy on Bicycle, is unpublished (though I've told him I'd love to Lulu it for him). It's his edited version of the best of the journals he wrote whilst making some amazing cycle journeys around Britain as a teenager between 1952 and 1955. Jim covered some astonishingly long and tortuous routes, often riding through the night with no lights, through all sorts of weathers, driven by an urge to explore - and often off the main routes. "My ambitions stretched and I covered most of central England, Northern Scotland, and parts of northern and southern England," this Suffolk lad wrote in 1955. "The long lines of cats' eyes; the glare of droning night vehicles; the dossing scenes in shabby transport cafes; gaunt floodlit factories; the sight of driving rain in the beam of a headlight; these became the real pleasures of my life."

    The voice of the adult editor in his seventh decade makes some wise and humoured commentary on the sometimes shrill but ever-entertaining writing of his younger self. I really hope Jim does publish this because although it's in a totally different league to Nick's work it's equally delightful in its own terms, a real slice of 1950s life which would appeal to all sorts of readers: