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MarkE (Oxford, UK)

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Old Man on a Bike
Old Man on a Bike
by Simon Gandolfi
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, but..., 19 July 2011
This review is from: Old Man on a Bike (Paperback)
This book is the perfect antidote to those who say "you shouldn't be doing that at your age". Gandolfi was 73 when he undertook this journey. For that reason alone the book is inspiring. I also found his rather cavalier attitude to common motorcycle orthodoxy mixed; the machine (a 125cc Honda) was probably perfect for his needs even though it was looked down on by many but his clothing was not the best motocycle clothing available at the time. As a result there are occasions where the experienced motorcyclist will feel little sympathy when Gandolfi complains of being cold and wet. Maybe he did not feel top of the range clothing was approriate for such a bike, but there can be no doubt better equipment would have been appropriate for that journey.

Partly because of his age, partly because of what appears to be his personality, Gandolfi met many people on his travels, and they (as always) are the key to a travel book. In such a long journey there must always be a wide variety of people met and spoken to. I felt at times however that Gandolfi was, maybe unwittingly, showing his own reflection rather than the picture of those he met. Others came over very clearly, but the few exeptions struck me quite strongly.

I would still recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel writing, and to anyone who may be falling into teh trap of thinking it time to slow down. But It is not a favourite.


Tortillas to Totems: Motorcycling Mexico, the USA and Canada. Sidetracked by the Unexpected
Tortillas to Totems: Motorcycling Mexico, the USA and Canada. Sidetracked by the Unexpected
by Sam Manicom
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Read this, then go, 22 Feb 2011
The first thing I would say about this book (and Manicom's previous three) is that it is not a motorcycle travel book; it is a travel book by an author who happens to use a motorcycle. Although I am a motorcyclist, and I enjoy travelling I am not a big fan of reading about how our intrepid hero changed his lower thrungle bracket at the roadside using only a stone and a length of baling twine. What I prefer, and what Sam Manicom delivers excellently, is to read about the people and the country through which he travelled.

This book is very different to its three predecessors in that the greater part of it is about more developed countries. Into Africa: Africa by Motorcycle - Every Day an Adventure, Under Asian Skies: Eye Opening Motorcycle Adventure Through the Cultures and Colours of Asia and Distant Suns: Adventure in the Vastness of Africa and South America are all about Manicom's travels through Africa, Asia and South America respectively. Tortillas to totems sees him (and his girlfriend Birgit) travelling through Mexico, the USA and Canada.

Manicom's thoughts as he enters the USA and speculates on what he will find are an interesting insight to the man himself. Having perhaps fallen into the trap of believing the stereotype the rest of the world has, it is refreshing to read the change that occurs as meeting normal people reminds him they (we) are all human and all individuals.

I would advise anyone to buy and read this book (and its predecessors), and then go out and start your own adventure.

As a disclaimer, I have met Sam Manicom several times at motortcycling events. Although I am not arrogant enough to claim his friendship I have always found him very approachable and good company. His fantastic ability to match faces and names to people he doesn't meet that often (and among the numbers he must meet) is, I believe, a tribute to his interest in people and a virtue.


One-Man Caravan
One-Man Caravan
by Roberet Edison Fulton
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beware blythe comments, 15 Jan 2011
This review is from: One-Man Caravan (Hardcover)
Having recently graduated, Fulton found himself at a dinner party discussing his immenent return to the US. It is possible drink had flowed, but rather than simply sailing to New York, Fulton said he planned to ride a motorcycle around the world. Had one of his fellow diners not had contacts with the Douglas motorcycle company the idea may have got no further, but the fellow guest had the contacts, provided the motorcycle, and Fulton set out around the world and this book is the result.

Apart from the motorcycle, Fulton also took a camera and large quantity of film. The book is well illustrated, although Fulton's discriptive writing does not really need this support. His views, naturally, are formed by his background but few of his comments jar with modern sensibilities. In view of what we know with hindsight Fulton lacked, some of his comments seem remarkably perceptive, while others may be positively naive, but he tells us what he saw and heard in his travels.

Although Fulton's means of transport is the motorcycle, I do not see this as a motorcycle travel book; Fulton is a traveller who happened to use a motorcycle, this is a travel book of the 1930's (for me, a golden age) that will appeal to all lovers of good travel writing.


The Promise
The Promise
Price: 12.46

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but also a little saddening, 3 Jan 2011
This review is from: The Promise (Audio CD)
Sadly this is the best work Springsteen has released in years, and as such it shows how far he has fallen since he peaked so high with Darkness on the Edge of Town. As others have said, if this body of work had been released instead of Darkness it would have been hailed as a masterpiece, but the additional work that went into Darkness was well applied, and that album is so much the stronger for it.

What the Promise gives however is a fascinating insight into Springsteen's writing methods; there are tunes here that appear on Darkness (or, even later, on the River) with very different lyrics; there are lyrics that appear later with different tunes; there are also a couple of ideas ("plots" if you like) that can be heard in other songs.

For the Springsteen fan that insight is well worth the price of admission. For the more general music lover this is a great work by a musician near the top of his game. I wish I could give this 4.9 stars; it is good, but I would have liked to have something extra to give Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Warmly recommended! But if you don't already know, Darkness on the Edge of Town is better.


Riding the Edge
Riding the Edge
by Dave with Mike Wourms Barr
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As much a personal as geographical journey, 28 Dec 2010
This review is from: Riding the Edge (Paperback)
I had heard of Dave Barr through motorcycling circles, and was impressed with the little I knew; a double amputee as a result of being blown up by an anti tank mine, Barr embarked on a round the world trip to present himeslf as a role model for the disabled, to raise awareness of certain disabled charities (not least the Cheshire homes) and quite probably to prove something to himself. As if that were not enough he chose what is quite possibly the least suitable motorcycle in the world for such a journey.

Unfortunately Barr is no author (although a ghost is credited the book is not well written). Despite the very strong material and the inspiring circumstances this is not an easy read. The book would also have benefitted from a good copy editor (many of the names I knew were mis-spelt; I assume as many of those I didn't know are also wrong), and maybe some checking of a few incidental facts mentioned in passing would have been good. At times Barr's frustration with the limitations of his machine comes over as petulance and I found myself thinking; it was your choice to take it so shut up whinging. Barr is also more comfortable mixing with members of 1% "outlaw" motorcycle clubs, which is not an environment where I felt comfortable.

Why then four stars? Because the book is very inspiring, and Barr offers his own perspective on what he sees as he travels the world. Mainly however, I give this book four stars for the way in which you see the author develop as a person through his travels. I don't think I would want to meet the Dave Barr of page 1, by the middle of the book he is changing into someone I might not avoid and by the end I would (will) travel to meet him if I ever get the opportunity. On page 1 I respect his courage and drive but by the end of the book I also admire his humanity.

Recommended for lovers of travel literature (it won't be their favourite, but they'll like it), motorcyclists and bikers, and those wanting to be inspired by simple human courage.


Ghost Rider: Travelling on the Healing Road: Travels on the Healing Road
Ghost Rider: Travelling on the Healing Road: Travels on the Healing Road
by Neil Peart
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't wait, 27 Aug 2010
Although it was very strongly recommended by others whose views I respect, I hesitated a long time before reading this book. I enjoy the music of Rush, and was concerned that this book might change my view of Peart as a person, and that could influence my view of his (their) music.

Given the circumstances under which Peart started his journey it should be no surprise that this is a very personal book, and you do learn a lot about Peart from reading it. Nonetheless I finished the book feeling I would be happy to join Peart on a long journey, or to spend more time in his company. I did feel any reader could get to know Peart a lot better through this book, and if you do not find his personality type attractive you could easily dislike both him and the book, but I also feel both author and book are worth getting to know.

I have recommended this book to various friends, not only those who enjoy motorcycle travel, but also those who are coming to terms with loss or other stresses as I believe it gives an insight into another's grief and thus gives reassurance that "you are not alone". I felt it was inspirational that Peart was looking forward to a future by the end of the book, having started to recover from his loss.

As other's have said, this is a book of two halves; apparently Rush were working on an album while Peart was writing the second half, and it does feel a little rushed (no pun intended), but even the second half is better than many other travel books I have read, while the first half is excellent.


A Picture Of Britain - Complete BBC TV Series [DVD] [2005]
A Picture Of Britain - Complete BBC TV Series [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ David Dimbleby
Offered by The Happy Zombie
Price: 13.60

27 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Five good shows, 26 Oct 2009
Five of the six episodes on this DVD are interesting looks at the landscapes that inspired much great British art, competently presented by a professional and fluent commentator in David Dimbleby. Sadly however the set is let down by one eposide (the fourth). This is where Dimbleby looks at the industrial north west, and here he allows his personal prejudices and snobbery to influence his presentation. While early industry was not pretty, it was also not as bad as Dimbleby tries to say it was; agricultural labourers left the land because industrial labour offered an escape from the crushing poverty that was the reality of their lives, yet Dimbleby tries to suggest they left idylic lives on chocolate box farms for the hard grind of Manchester's mills; it was the development of these early industries that created the wealth that has given Mr Dimbleby a very comfortable life, paid for by UK taxpayers. Dimbleby's distaste for industry is so overwhelming I found it offensive enough to prevent me finishing that one episode despite some great paintings of Manchester and Coalbrookdale. This is not an expensive DVD, and it would be cheap with only five episodes so I wouldn't advise anyone to avoid it, but I would also advise any buyer to skip episode four.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 28, 2010 3:07 PM BST


In Search of the Pleasure Palace: Disreputable Travels
In Search of the Pleasure Palace: Disreputable Travels
by Marc Almond
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem on every page (not all diamonds), 7 Oct 2009
I enjoy travel writing and enjoyed Soft Cell when I had hair and a waistline, so I thought this would repay the investment of a few hours to read. Having read it I am very pleased I did so as it has given me a great deal of pleasure.

As part of his self confessed mid life crisis Almond revisits several of his favourite cities and haunts. I haven't checked but I rather suspect you will not find many of these haunts in the average tourist guide, and the average tourist probably wouldn't want to go there. Although I am, in some ways, the average tourist, I enjoyed Almond's descriptions of some of the clubs and events he visits even though they may not be my own mug of Earl Grey. This book may not be the best present for maiden aunts of a nervous disposition but those of us with a bit more life experience or a streetwise teen will love it.

It is also worth noting that, while Almond makes no effort to deny his fame and (past) success, he does not appear to be the typical self obsessed "star"; he can be self deprecating and (I feel) genuinely modest at times.

Almond's talent as a songwriter shows through in his use of language, and there is something worth quoting on almost every page; words of wisdom, wicked wit or classy cattyness. There are even a few more thoughtful moments to make you think, especially if, like the author, you are having to confront the ageing process.


Brodeck's Report
Brodeck's Report
by Philippe Claudel
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you, whoever you were, 15 Sep 2009
This review is from: Brodeck's Report (Hardcover)
I read a review of this in a newspaper and thought it might be interesting. If I could remember which newspaper and who the reviewer was I would thank them personally for a book which has enriched me.

There are actually two reports in parallel; the narrator's discovery of how his neighbours had behaved in the war to each other and to strangers and of who had been involved in his own arrest; and the murder after the war of a stranger, after the narrator had narrowly escaped death for the same "crime". The writing is deliberately vague, as is the location of the village, so the reader cannot see the story in too specific terms; it is applicable to any time, and any place.

The plot is very powerful, and the writing (and translation) of this book help it to stand out. I will be buying other books by Claudel on the strength of this.


The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither (Illustrated Edition) (Dodo Press)
The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither (Illustrated Edition) (Dodo Press)
by Isabella Lucy Bird
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A window to a past age, in more ways than one, 27 Feb 2009
This book is an account of a journey around South East asia in the late 19th century. The book is derived from letters from the author, who is keen to share her experiences of a very foreign country with the people at home. Her descriptive powers are very well suited to the task and one can easily picture the scenes she describes.

The contrast with modern Malaysia and Singapore is incredible and makes me regret never having had the opportunity to explore the area more (the account of Kuala Lumpur as little more than a village helps to illustrate the changes that have taken place).

I should warn potential readers that Isabella Bird is a woman of her age and class. Her literary style occasionally tends to the purple, she loves using as many adjectives as possible and her lists (for example of market stalls) are complete. Sometimes one wished for a bit less detail. She also indulges in the sort of casual racism about the natives she encounters (usually as servants) that many might find offensive. Before condeming her however, I wonder how we would react in the same situation if we had the same upbringing and education? Bird is among the more open minded of her generation, and she will have contributed to our attitudes today; such things change by degrees, not overnight.

If you enjoy travel writing, especially when the traveller/writer has a very British stiff upper lip, you will enjoy this book.


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