Ted Simon has been an inspiration to many, through his bestselling ‘Jupiter’s Travels’, which documented his round the world exploits in the 1970s. His newest book lets readers get to know the man and more importantly the country, that had such an impact on his formative years, and thus shaped his life. It has been a revelation.
Rolling through the Isles is Ted Simon doing exactly that, bimbling through the British Isles on a Piaggio MP3, with no specific itinerary, other than exploration and rediscovery for its own sake. It gives him the opportunity to tackle the bigger questions: Why is Wem? Why indeed.
Are English pubs still the hub of convivial conversation and the source of all local knowledge, or indeed were they ever?
Once he masters his Satnav and discovers how he can remain well away from trunk roads, he manages to embarrass himself with youth and discover that the ignorance of his own tender years robbed him of the ability to experience architectural and cultural jewels on his doorstep. Even working as a journalist on a local paper in Cumbria he failed to discover the history and significance of everything that surrounded him. It’s true that youth is wasted on the young, but all of us are now rewarded by the wisdom and insight that Ted’s experience and age can bring. This is not a Bill Bryson-esque factoid publication, but it does convey information about the country most of us inhabit and yet know precious little about.
What do we know of the impact politics and war have on the young when by accident of geography are born to parents who themselves were created on the wrong side of a separate ideological divide? What has this to do with our sense of self or our desire to explore the rest of the world and to challenge stereotype? Ted answers some of these questions, even subconsciously, and we are invited to discover some very personal truths, but what makes the whole experience such a delight for the reader, is that Ted permits his writing to reflect his humour; sometimes delivered through self-deprecating wit and occasionally with a fantastically delivered one liner, simply left to hang.
Having read all his earlier works, some of it clearly heartfelt and delivered with aplomb, some other texts seemed to me driven by a publishing imperative. Rolling Through the Isles however, is refreshingly honest but certainly sharp. If you like Ted’s writing you’ll love this. If you thought some of his earlier books inaccessible or too earnest, you’ll delight in the rhythm of delivery here and if you hold him in some kind of awe, this is the text that’ll let you discover the person. If that sounds just a little obsequious, perhaps it is a reflection of the book’s effect on me.
With all good writing, less is more, except in the case of his exploration of Ireland, which is woefully inadequate. If you get the chance to meet him, do mention it, I’m sure he’ll concur, with a wry smile.
Hardback, the first edition is worth its £20 asking price. That’s a few evenings’ entertainment for less than a night in the pub where no-one would talk to you anyway!
Published by Little Brown and available here.
249pp + 16pp colour