Saturday, November 7, 2009

Book Review - Downhill all the way: Cycling through France from La Manche to the Mediterranean by Edward Enfield

I just finished reading this book which follows the just-retired Edward Enfield through France by bicycle. This guy is a very funny British (Sussex) writer, and despite having little interest in the geography or history of France, I enjoyed the book immensely just because of his funny anecdotal way of telling his story.

On magpies, he says:

The only useful information I have ever got from the letters column in our local paper was a tip from a lady who had just come back from Norway, where she had learnt that the bad luck which you get from seeing one magpie can be averted if you say "Good morning, Mr Magpie - how are your children?" Accordingly I greeted any solitary magpies with "Bonjour Monsieur Pie - comment ├ža va avec les enfants?" which I recommend to anyone who finds themselves in similar circumstances, as it worked very well.

Here is an excerpt from the end of the book.

Against a car, cycling has two particular advantages, the first being that it gives you a great feeling of superiority. As you arrive and chain your bicycle to the railings you feel an enjoyable pity and contempt for the poor creatures who have come by car, spewing out the products of combustion to the detriment of the atmosphere and slouching in their seats and seeing nothing as they pass. This is particularly agreeable if they have come in a really vulgar car such as a Porche, as it is nice to look down on people who expect you to feel envious of them.

The second great advantage of a bicycle is that, if in doubt, you can get off. When faced with a problem, you simple hop off and settle the matter with the aid of a map in a leisurely and unflustered manner.

There should be some management-jargon terms for cycling, such as that it is enjoyment-efficient and has a high pleasure-to-cash ratio. It is after all very cheap, and you could almost buy a bicycle for the price of a major service to your car. Even a quite expensive bicycle, unless you go mad, would cost about the same as a set of car tyres. The rewards are enormous. You can make discoveries by impulse-deviation (another new management term), that is, by wheeling off to the side because some sign tells you not to miss some obscure attraction.

The proper way to travel is to make your own travel arrangements, carry your own gear and fend for yourself along the way. I once parked my loaded bicycle against the kerb to find that next to me was a family on a cycling package holiday. They each had a trifling little satchel on the handlebars of their borrowed bicycles, the serious luggage having been taken on ahead by van. I like to be in charge of my own dinner as much as my own destiny. If you are taking the independent course and carrying your own stuff, then packing becomes important.

Never worry about going slowly on rising ground. Getting off and pushing is the lowest gear of all, and there is nothing wrong with it except that it tends to provoke facetious comments from bystanders who are on their feet, or occasionally from cyclists on racing bikes without luggage or camping gear. The time will come when the road is in your favour, which is when you can make your play and speed along to get your average up, if you have it in mind to arrive at a certain place by a certain time.

Before leaving the subject of bicycles, I should introduce the topic of bicycle saddles, which is an intimate matter and needs to be handled with delicacy. I found once that I was, surprisingly enough, discussing the subject with a very attractive girl in my office. She blushingly told me that she had not only encountered but also solved the problem which we were both too shy to describe in precise terms. She said that if i called at her house on the way home she would show me exactly what she meant. I called, and she led me into the garage and said 'Look' and what I saw was a broad hard saddle which I have since found to be the owner. Do not sit either on a sort of sharp spike or on a squashy thing with squealing springs, both of which are available. Get on as hard and wide as you can. If you have trouble after that, apply Vaseline to the affected part.

1 comment:

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