‘The Japanese-speaking curtain maker’ by Spencer Conway

It’s not a title you might expect for a book about a circumnavigation of the African continent, but you quickly establish that Spencer Conway is anything but ordinary.

Leaving Kent in a rain-storm this petrified unconfident rider soon blossoms, and following a slightly hair-raising blast across Tunisia behind a compulsory guide and his alcoholic driver, has fully settled into his stride by Egypt.

Much of the story telling centres around the human experiences he has and one particular interaction, with Ashraf a boatman from Aswan, illustrates perfectly how he manages to reach into the lives of those he meets. I won’t spoil it, or the myriad other tales, from Nigerian millionaires to Kenyan bandits, drunken soldiers, forests full of beer, malaria in Ghana or crossing borders that haven’t been traversed for years, but I will say that what’s interesting is the way that sometimes the stories are complete tangents. They can be recalled almost as vignettes, taking you away completely from the linear course of the journey, but done in a way that you barely notice, until you abruptly return to the main narrative.

The whole text is certainly high octane and you could never say Spencer is the luckiest of men, but he does make decisions many of us may not. And that of course is what creates the story. There’s mud and guns and breakdowns and aggro and laughter; the whole nine yards.

I found, almost disappointingly that the north west of Africa was traversed in what seemed like an instant. The pull of home – and the desert – leads to massive days in the saddle and the tone of the book changes. If anything the style improves even though the human interaction diminishes.

This is certainly not a book that will bore you, and if you are considering Christmas presents for riders you know, you could do a lot worse. But if you are trying to justify to a loved one why it would be safe and sensible for you to head off for 6 months and discover the world from the back of a bike, I suggest you choose carefully where and when you read it!

Paddy Tyson
ISBN: 9780995629035
356pp £9.99
Published by YouByYou Books (2019)