Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Books with Cycling in them

Yesterday was a non-cycling day and today I cycled to a lunchtime meeting and back the short way. The weather has been damp, I got wet coming back from lunch. But it was still great to be ale to get a few miles/kilometres, in fact around 9Km/5mile. As I was cycling back being nosey looking at some plumbing people looking at a manhole in someones drive I did thump into a pothole. Although there are definite steps being made to sort out the potholes after the hard winter it is an ongoing task. If anything the constant freeze-thaw is probably the worst weather in terms of road damage. If it can reduce mountains to rubble then what are a few roads? Fortunately there was no damage to my new wheels or me. It was a straight bit of road and I was in the middle of my lane, not where you expect potholes to crop up really.

DSC00222.JPG One of the ways I encourage myself to cycle is by reading about other people's adventures. I am not sure how much such books appeal to general readers - however I find them very interesting. It is fascinating to read about the adventures and motivations for such rides and it helps me consider where I might like to ride in the world. Although I am not planning a round the world trip any time soon, unlike Alastair Humphreys whose 46,000mile 4 year journey was sufficiently long to require not one but two books to chronicle. (Book 1 is Moods of future Joys and Book2 is Thunder and Sunshine.) These books are not a sequence of cycling travel events but rather give insight into Alastair's motivations and the uncertainties that must crop up in any adventure, but rarely get written about.

The adventure he writes about is certainly not one to be undertaken by the faint-hearted and the trials and tribulations leave the reader in no doubt that Alastair did not choose the easy route. He also left his girlfriend behind and could not even bring himself to ring her in the early stages of his journey for fear it would weaken his resolve.

If anything this book underplays the huge challenge Alastair set himself. For me I enjoyed his interaction with the various cultures around the world. I would have liked a bunch of pictures though. As a cyclist who takes pictures there are some days when you just want to get on and get the miles done, regretting only at the end of the day the lack of pictures to record what you have seen.

I had not realised that there were two books in the series and made sure I had the second one on order before getting too close to the end of the first book.

DSC00219.JPGAfter the adventures of a round the world cyclist I moved onto a more thoughtful book - Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne. His name is known to me because he was a co-founder of Talking Heads, an American rock band formed in 1974 with David as the front-man and songwriter. I saw the book reviewed - not sure where probably in one of the Sunday papers.

Apparently 20-odd years ago he started taking a folding bicycle along on tour with him and the bicycle-eye's view he got of the world encouraged him to do more. As you might imagine as a successful musician he has had the opportunity to travel to many cities of the world. So he combines his love of the freedom cycling bestows with an eclectic set of observations ranging from urban planning through to politics interspersed with tales of the people he interacts with.

One of the great things about the Internet world we live in is the "instant gratification". As I started writing this I thought - hum it would be interesting to listen to some Talking Heads to see what I remember, so courtesy of Spotify I am listening to "The Best of Talking Heads" . (In the mid-70s I was more into Led Zeppelin and The Who, mind you my tastes have become way more eclectic as time has passed. My most recent CD - Marina and the Diamonds!)

DSC00220.JPGThe last cycling related book I have read is Tea for Two by Polly Benge. This is a travelogue, personal diary and love story in one. The story starts with her boyfriend who is planning on returning to his home in New Zealand with a cycle tour in India on the way and asking her to go with him along with another friend. As a freelance dancer in her late twenties this represents a significant step on many levels for Polly. Can she cope with the cycling in a potentially dangerous part of India? what does it mean for her career? and perhaps most important of all what does it mean for her relationship?

I am not going to spoil the story but Polly's story is a candid insight into what makes her tick and the insights she has into her own foibles.

I also liked her well-written observations of being (and cycling) India, it brought back great memories of my time cycling in India. One of the common Indian mannerisms is the sideways movement/share of the head. Somehow or other this one gesture can be yes, no, maybe or even I don't know, just get out of my hair. The area they travelled in was more remote than my trip in India and so they were also sometimes given a Police Escort and stayed in Administration Bungalows. Like my son Polly did not have her brush with "Delhi belly" until the end of her trip - in fact she had the reverse problem. Come to think of it I did not suffer at all in that department when travelling in India (my son and I became pseudo vegetarians for or trip).

The other thing I liked about this book were the photographs, I am sure that it adds to the cost and complication of producing a book, but for this type of book I think they are absolutely necessary, after all a picture is worth a thousand words. Indeed the pictures also brought back memories of my journey in India.

If I had to pick a favourite then let me give you an insight into my reading habits. I normally read before I go to sleep, for a good book I also will read a bit in the morning before I get up and for a really good book I will also read it at other times of the day. Alastair's books were read before sleep and on waking up - not that I doubted that he would make it - rather to see what his travels would throw up next. I read David Byrne's book before sleep - I did enjoy it - but it was better to read in chapter size chunks, it required some thought to do justice to it. As for Polly's book that got read at night, in the morning and during the day. Why was it so compulsive, well partly to find out what happens in her life, but also her ability to bring to life the trials and tribulations and joys of her journey gave it a great tempo.

Of course the post would not be complete without a quick update on the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB). A report in the local newspapers - "Transport bosses take out loans to pay for guideway" suggests that the Cambridgeshire Country Council will borrow money to pay for the CGB works and then get some money back because of the cost over run. In fact the report suggest that the Council will borrow £51.2million this year and next and BAM Nuttall will be paid £161million (the original price was £116million) and that the Council will reclaim around £40million. (Other moneys including £92.5million are coming from the government and from planning gain contributions.)

Now I have not been involved in such large deals but have negotiated multi-million pound projects in the past - stage payments are a normal way for the "purchase" to ensure that the "contractor" is getting the job done and payments are not made unless a particular stage has been completed appropriately. I have never been in a situation where the full payment is made (including an over run cost) and then a chunk claimed back. Mind you my projects where not civil engineering projects.

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