A while ago I read a book called 'One Man and His Bike' by Mike Carter in which in need of some stimulation he gets on his bike and cycles around the coastline of the island. This takes him five months, it did not kill him! I enjoyed the book, a gentle but indeed stimulating journey through the land, meeting people, places and himself. I opted for this book by Tim Moore in the hope it would offer similar stimulating and entertaining views of people and land.
I have been struggling lately to get through the books I have been reading. These have been too heavy to rush and too packed with detail to be always easy reads. So I broke of to read Tim Moore's book and I must say I have read it within a week! It was a book that was easy to read and kept a hold of me all the way through, well until nearer the end when he began to tire me with both his opinions and forced humour.
The idea of the book is based on an accidental discovery of the Isle of Sheppey in the 1980's. Here in the mist he and his wife blundered into crowds of holiday makers enjoying the delights of the foul seaside on offer. Twenty years or so later he decided to pay them a visit again. This time it was a dying image that he met. People had moved on, caravan sites were almost empty, and the sun shone. From this he decided to tour the country, visiting the worst places and staying and eating at what the public and others called the worst eateries and doing son in an ancient suitable car, a Bulgarian built Austin Maestro! To make things worse he chose the worst music of the day, and we all remember it so to save earworms I will not mention any of the worst 80's music, he chose 348 tracks of this vile output to accompany him.
He travelled east up through Great Yarmouth, Skegness,Grimsby, Hull, Middlesborough and Lochgelly. He returned via Cumbernauld where a local did the decent thing and attempted to kill him, Barrow, Southport's 'Pontins'Rhyll, Nottingham and several places I have missed out. To those who have been here they would realise he has chosen bad places very well. If the intention was to see how places had changed he succeeded, all had fallen apart since Thatchers time, the 80's and the 90's had not been good to them. Vast areas of derelict land where docks, industry, coal mines and the like may once have stood now if they contained anything possessed industrial units, often closed. (This journey I ought to say was about 2010) Asda and Tesco dominated many places as did the 'Brutal' architecture of the 1950's so loved by thrusting young architects. To be fair many wished to replace the vast loss of housing the war brought and provide modern light, well provisioned housing, often it was good at first and a disaster as time passed. Those moving from a slum in 1951 ( "cough" a very good year) into a house or flat with bathroom, kitchen, running water, bedrooms aplenty and decent neighbours rather like my parents did were overjoyed with what they possessed. In Sheffield such housing was well thought out and only in the 70's when jobs failed and the early tenants moved away and were replaced by the losers of society did the place fall apart. Brutal car parks in town centres were once everywhere, many now removed, workless areas led to depression, loss of dignity and an abundance of anti depression drugs being handed out by doctors unable to cure the situation. Each town had a slogan, each slogan the author tells us fails to inspire, don't we know that? Some had people working hard, others had given up, some councils appear to be trying, others less so.
Tim stayed at the worst hotels and boarding houses, some of us can recall similar results without checking 'Tripadvisor' first. Boarding houses and hotels often appear run by people who care little, charge a lot, and have never been trained in customer service. Who is to blame is a good question.
The food he chose to eat was repulsive and he gave far too many needless details about this. Just as the descriptions of things found in hotel rooms were often needless, especially if I was eating.
It became obvious that this author was indeed a 'poncy Londoner' travelling around sneering at common folks. He appears to speak to few people except those he meets in pubs or restaurants, and pubs are not the best places to meet people. He wants to see depression everywhere, so why not visit parts of London pal? Too many people he knows might be there I suppose.
His visit to Lochgelly clearly shows the agenda he carried with him. Settling into a Cowdenbeath pub for the night, grumbling about the place as he does so, he gets a bus, eventually, to Lochgelly a small mining village of around 6800 people. Here our poncy Londoner enters two pubs, mocks the accent, as he does everywhere, and makes out the folks just sit there getting drunk. This handful of people are enough for him to gain knowledge of the town. However his real reason was to discuss the 'Tawse.' This allows him to launch into his predisposed opinion regarding such weapons and yet offers no suggestions as to dealing with the indiscipline now found in all schools. All too often he discovers what he expects to find, deprivation, depression and despair.
He was wrong. Mike Carter found some despair but a great many decent people on his journey, why did Tim find so few? Could it be his boasting of how much he could drink in how many pubs had something to do with this? A clear head would have allowed better conclusion, and removed many boring passages from the book. Maybe people would then have talked to him?
Tim Moores intention is to write a humorous travel book, in the beginning this works well but as Barrow and Billingham are seen in the rear view mirror his humour begins to be forced. He tries too hard to keep up the gag, too often desperate to fill a line with adjectives contrasting the view with something horrible, using his wit when a simple description would be better. By the time Tim reached Rhyll it was getting tiresome. Believe me I know when humour is forced or tiresome, I am told about this daily!
Still having grumped about his poncy Londoner sneering, insulting Lochgelly and Cowdenbeath where my mother was born and which I know well and would happily discuss their better points over a pint and a hatchet, mine, I would still recommend this book as a look at a Britain that may well be passing away. Much 'Brutalist' architecture is rightly being destroyed, almost all industry already has gone and gleaming factories in bright industrial units are not in any way like the industrial past. Remembering that the author looked for the worst and that he was looking to find bad things so we can ignore many of his conclusion, we can tell that out there huge areas of Britain are not connected to what is seen on our TVs or blabbed about in the media day by day. The great and the good go their way filling the media with their distortions but the real people as always just have to get on with it and most of them do.
At once a depressing but enjoyable book, one I was loathe to put down, in spite of the poncy Londoner, and I am left wondering if I can contact the chap in Cumbernauld and pass on Tim's London W4 address...?
Read this book!