Rolling Through the Isles, by Ted Simon – Book Review

Somebody asks Ted that if he had only one more motorcycle trip to do, where would he go? Many of us might think about exotic places, like Bali, or adventurous, like Tibet, or sybaritic, like the French Riviera. But Ted, a sensible chap, looks back over a long life, and decides he would like to return to where his travels all began.

The sub-title reads: “A Journey Back Down the Old Roads that Led to Jupiter’s Travels.” He avails himself of a Piaggio MP3 and takes off for a ramble around Dear Old Blighty, as the British troops abroad in World War I called their home. It is a wonderful ramble, visiting places he hasn’t been to in 50, 60, 70 years … he turned 80 last year. This is not a Jupiter book, not full of motorcycle anecdotes, more a book for Simonites and Anglophiles.

Being an unabashed Simonite, I love the way he writes, whether it’s about motorcycles or life in Round Valley, where he lives in Northern California. Or about Britain. His first trip was at an early age, back in 1939, when London children were being sent to the countryside to avoid the German bombing, and he decides to start the present trip by going off and visiting this old haunt. He expects a lot of changes, but the passage of time has also served to erase many memories. He remembers the school children going out to a field to harvest potatoes, but even the oldies in the village think he is wrong. Until a newspaper clipping proves he is right.

With his MP3 he wants to stay on the back roads, the little byways, and finds that can be difficult in the age of the motorway, especially when relying on a TomTom GPS unit. He goes to places he lived when doing his military service in the Royal Air Force and finds the towns expanded beyond all recognition. In the 1950s every village and town had a center, generally within walking distance for the inhabitants, where all the activities took place, from shopping to local government to having a pint at the pub–and now these focal points have often disappeared.

He decries the current pub atmosphere–he remembers when he, a stranger, would walk into a pub and before long he would be welcomed by and invited to join the regulars in hoisting a Guinness. I could say the same has happened to the American bar, where strangers often do not seem to be welcome; nowadays travelers go to chain hotels and drink at the hotel bar with other travelers. Ted feels that many people seem to have a lack of curiosity, of not wishing to expand their horizons, of wanting to stay within their own small circle.

Don’t get me wrong; this is certainly not a negative book, as Ted sees a lot of old friends along the way, makes some new ones, but his travels demonstrate the changes that have taken place in the British Isles over the past decades. As has happened in this country as well.

The one thing I missed in the book was an end paper, between the cover and the first page, where a map of the isles would have been useful in following his journey. The hardcover book, with photos, is printed in England, and Ted will happily send you an autographed copy if you send a check for $38 to Jupitalia Productions, 25750 East Lane, Covelo, CA 95428. Also available from Amazon.


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