Cycling

Spain To Norway On A Bike Called Reggie: ‘Travel Writing… At Its Very Best’

I read the review for Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie that I have copied and pasted below whilst sitting in my car outside the Meltham branch of Morrisons en route home from my few days in the Dordogne visiting the Tour de France (see previous posts). It has been written by Brian Palmer for his website The Washing Machine Post, or should I say ‘the washing machine post’ as Brian has adopted the interesting style of using no capital letters whatsoever. I like him for that (although it can take some getting used to). I’ll be honest; as anyone who has ever devoted a significant chunk of time and effort into doing anything of significance will testify, receiving fulsome praise for what you have put your heart and soul into completing can be quite emotional. If you happened to be in Morrisons’ car park in Meltham at around 5pm today I deny absolutely that I was the man in the brown (well, ‘iced chocolate’ according to the marketing) Mini wiping away a small tear.

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[i] have great admiration for andrew sykes (and his ilk) who, on what appears little more than an idle whim, decided to ride reggie (a very famous ridgeback bicycle) all the way from the southern tip of spain to the northernmost point on norway. in effect, the longest path, north to south on mainland europe. by comparison, my own concerns as to deciphering the islay bus timetable in order to reach the ferry prior to its departure seem like a walk in the park (except, islay doesn’t have a park).

mr sykes has featured in these pixels on two previous occasions. as a former teacher and now serial adventurer he has crossed europe and cycled along the med, both of which have also seen publication in book format. it has to be admitted that none of his three attested journeys are particularly unique; even in the current volume he meets at least two others attempting remarkably similar traversings of the continent. but what gives him a considerable advantage over any other you care to mention is not only his ability to capture the salient aspects of his trip(s) in print, but by means of an excellent writing style and an almost unrivalled sense of humour.

if comparisons are allowed, think bill bryson, but possibly funnier.

“…I proffered my printed credentials. ‘I’m on a mission to promote environmental understanding and education’, I might have added if I hadn’t been pretty sure that he was some kind of Spanish secret agent.”

the above mentioned quote was due to the author having had to apply for specific credentials allowing him to depart from tarifa, the southernmost point of spain, on the grounds that it was a restricted military area. and here’s where arises that insouciance of which i spoke earlier; andrew was unaware of this potentially calamitous start to his expedition until having arrived on spanish soil. rather than accept this as being an immovable object, he applied for and received exemption from the restriction. however, in order not to break the conditions “it would be necessary for me to ‘realise a project aimed at promoting…etc., etc.”

though ostensibly a travel book in which the perpetrator has chosen a bicycle as his travelling companion, we learn remarkably little about reggie other than, like most bicycles, he developed a clicking sound that simply wouldn’t go away despite the ministrations of more than a single bicycle mechanic. eventually, a rebuilt rear wheel solved the problem, but getting there advertised the author’s distinct lack of fettling ability. to be honest, that underlines one of the book’s finest aspects.

virtually no bike talk.

andrew’s ultimate destination of nordkapp in norway is situated 71 degrees, 10 minutes and 21 seconds north of the equator. subtracting the specific location of his point of departure created a journey encompassing a total of just over 35 degrees. to helpfully reinforce this fact, each short chapter is entitled using the degree through which the author travels, an idiosyncratic but delightful eccentricity.

the very best travel books all but exclude details of the method of travel; a bicycle is a bicycle is a bicycle, whether it’s inches away from the northern tip of norway or almost excluded from a spanish military base. adventure is the subject and we, the readers, want to be enlightened, educated and entertained in a manner that draws attention to none of those.

“a Tasmanian born Aussie of Scottish parents who first met the Crown Prince in a pub in Sydney during the 2000 Olympic games. Born Mary Donaldson in 1972, she is now Her Royal highness, The Crown Princess of Denmark, Countess of Monpezat and Knight grand of the Order of the Elephant. Now that’s successful social climbing.”

and lest you think that mr sykes, well travelled on mainland europe, had found cause to forget the history of his own land, such is dispelled on his ride to copenhagen. having opted to shorten the journey to the danish capital via a slight detour, he was privy to a lesson in roof thatching from a female danish thatcher by the name of petina. along with her boss, she was in the process of re-roofing a pretty cottage at a cost of £40,000, a roof that she said would be likely to last for around forty years. on enquiring as to whether there were many female thatchers in denmark, the author was informed that petina was likely the sole female practitioner after having trained for four years, but on telling sykes that she intended to visit england to see how british thatchers do their job, he silently answered…

“Shut down the mines, introduce a poll tax and ignore any opposition.” quite so.

if i was of a mind, i would have invented a scale against which i might measure the humorous content of any book i am fortunate enough to review, but until i get round to doing so, ‘spain to norway on a bike called reggie’ will serve as the benchmark. rarely have i laughed out loud so frequently in polite company; if you’re reading on the train just be sure you’re not seated in the silent coach. i know all of us here are seriously into bikes in one way or another, but every now and again, it’s nice to sit back, removed the armwarmers, take the helmet off and revel in the adventures of a man who, if he didn’t exist, would need to be invented.

travel writing (with a bike) at its very best.

thursday 13 july 2017

Brian’s complete post about ‘Spain to Norway…’ can be found by following this link. You can also read Brian’s review of Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie (which, at the time, sported the full name ‘Good Vibrations: Crossing...’) by following this link and his review of Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie by following this link. In honour of Brian’s website, here are some more washing machines* from my travels, this time in Pamplona, Spain:

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*The washing machine appearing in the featured image to the left of the post is a Zug Adora L, circa 1985. On its right is a Blomberg spin dryer. If you are into your washing machines, more details in this post from southern Switzerland written in 2010

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