Friday, 26 May 2017

The continuing appeal of Mike Carter's One Man and His Bike

I doubt I'll ever be famous or accomplished enough to be a guest on Desert Island Discs, but if I found myself on the programme I wouldn't be happy about being given the complete works of William Shakespeare to accompany me on the mythical isle. But I do know what my luxury would be: One Man and His Bike by Mike Carter.

You might be thinking: Why is he still going on about that book? Good question. And the answer is simple: I love it!

I'm afraid I'd have stern words with Kirsty Young about the complete works of William Shakespeare. Who wants to spend their time on a desert island being reminded about exams? Not me. "Nay, but this dotage of our general..." my arse!

Over the past few days – now that summer has clearly arrived and we're all basking in 25 degree heat – it's that time of year when, on reaching home, I take a small walk (of no more than three minutes) to the local off licence where I purchase (for £1.49, it used to be 99p) a large can of Stella Artois. The thing that really annoys me about Stella – or 'wife beater' as it is more popularly known – is that, of late, the brewer has reduced the abv (alcohol by volume) from, I recall, 5.2% to 4.8%. As a result, Stella doesn't have that kick any more and after drinking a can I start to feel as if another one would be worth making a return journey to the shop. But no, leave it alone, one's enough, a little man sitting on my right shoulder advises me; and he's right.

So, part one of my summer fantasy – a large, chilled can of lager sitting in the garden – has been achieved. Now for part two.

Part two is simply reaching for a copy of Mike Carter's One Man and His Bike, picking a section of it at random and then sitting down and reliving Carter's amazing adventure around the coastline of the United Kingdom on a bicycle. It is quite simply my one and only fantasy, riding off around the coastline of the country without a care in the world and enjoying everything that comes my way.

Alright, it's not my only fantasy, but picking up One Man and His Bike and reading random sections of it now and then has become a little bit of a habit. Why? Because I find reading it, transports me back to being on the ride the first time round, when I first read the book. It's not only relaxing but therapeutic too. Put simply, it lifts my spirits (what more can anybody ask from a book?) and one day I might simply decide to re-read it. Right now I don't have a book to read, having just finished Hotels of North America by Rick Moody, and I'm debating whether to read one of four cycling adventure books that have hit the shelves of Waterstones.

The key contenders (the only contenders) are The Man Who Cycled the Americas by Mark Beaumont – a book which has been on my list since I read his The Man Who Cycled the World – but also two other books, one being The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold by Tim Moore and the other Spain to Norway on a Bike Called Reggie by Andrew P Sykes. There's also a fourth, Kapp to Cape by Reza Pakravan and Charlie Carroll.

I've dipped into all of them over the past seven days with a view to buying one, but I'm doubting whether any of them can put Carter's masterpiece into the shade, although I'm sure they will be 'good reads', which is all I'm after.

I have two other books in mind, which are more nature-related, one being Roger Deakin's Waterlog, which charts Deakin's adventures on a wild swimming odyssey around the UK and another book, the title of which I have forgotten, written about somebody who walks around the UK following little known footpaths. I wish I could remember the title and the author, but I can't, but it has a similar vibe to the Deakin book.

For now, then, I'll continue to enjoy dipping into Carter's One Man and His Bike. This evening I read most of Chapter Four where he rides to Mersea Island, has trouble trying to reach the Brightlingsea ferry and eventually meets up with a man called Tony Haggis having cycled through the dilapidated Jaywick, through Clacton and on towards Frinton on Sea. Earlier in the week I'd read a large chunk of a later chapter when he was in Scotland and being attacked by a swarm of midges. It's all good and in many ways has become a kind of 'bible', something to pick up when spirits need lifting or if I simply want to escape reality for a short while and find myself on a bike in the middle of nowhere looking for a campsite or a bed & breakfast late on a hot summer's afternoon.

Tonight I had a small glass of red wine instead of the can of Stella and I finished off with fresh strawberries and a choc ice (you don't get much better ). I'm still sitting outside in the garden, but a breeze has come up, the surrounding trees are developing slowly into silhouettes and the birds are having their final sing song before bed.

The skies are clear of cloud, but the blue is starting to fade and I'm starting to feel a little cold, especially when the cool breeze hits home. I need to send an abort text to Andy as I can't ride Saturday, but I'm free for Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday (it looks as if this week-long spell of hot, sunny weather has a few more days to run and I definitely need to be on the bike).

Uneasy Rider by Mike Carterclick here.

One Man and His Bike by Mike Carterclick here.

In Irvine, Californiaclick here.

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