Bill Bryson. Definitely on my list of ‘People to invite to Dinner’. He would obviously be unable to resist and come round for a chippy tea. Bringing his chuckle and those kind eyes that Father Christmas impersonators the world over try to master to get the job.
This man has more facets than the latest all singing all dancing latest multi faceted hair colour brand. Whatever that is.
Bill has been resident in my home for years now, copies exchanged, borrowed, lent, charity shopped and gifted. I started with his travel books, and went onto his historical, scientific, educational ones.
You will find the same humour, humanity, and superb observation in them all. His travel books are informative, but for me the real pull is the way he ‘puts you there’ . Witty, curious and charming, with a hint of plain savagery at times. It is his observance of people and their quirks, that enchants me the most.
It seems that Bill cannot stay still, either physically or mentally, and nor would i want him to. He instils, within me, a curiosity for the World, Language and People, and if i ever did get to meet him, I would absolutely just nod my head, mute, and dumbstruck. Or bear hug him. Either way he would up his security.
Which ones have you read?
I am on Neither Here Nor There at the moment. Hoping this European travel adventure, covers Denmark- which is my next planned stop, allowing me to ‘bed in’ somewhat with familiarity.
Covid may stop our trip in August, but we can still travel, through well written books and amazing photography.
“I’ve got you a present Sis”
As she handed me the parcel I knew it was a book, and given that we had been trying to sort out our travel itinerary the week before, it was no real surprise that it was a Bradt Travel Guide-The Gambia.
The lack of surprise however, did not dull the shine or joy of the gift. I gleefully hugged her, and we did the happy jumping up and down thing, whilst hugging, which meant she was suffocating in my boobs. The short arse.
I read the Bradt guide, like I do with all travel guides, fervently, excitedly, and taking my pen to it, marking places with stars and underlining things. Drinking in the maps, circling things and joining them with arrows and question marks. It is an absolute chaotic mess to be honest. But I never did intend to pass it on.
Geekdom Level 100 was hit when I overheard a fellow passenger mentioning an attraction there and I knew which page in the guide it was on. No wonder I am single.
In the foreword of this guide, was as usual, a nod to the authors, updaters and contributors that had penned the guide, and something that stood out to me.
That Simon Fenton, a seasoned travel writer and photographer, had fallen in love in Senegal (the neighbouring country to The Gambia). Packed up his life in the UK, and taken to living with his Partner, amongst the Jola tribespeople.
From there they built an eco-guesthouse, The Little Baobab Guesthouse and Simon documented his adventures in the book Squirting Milk At Chameleons- An Accidental African. The passage in the travel guide turned out to be a eulogy of sorts. He was killed in a car crash in 2017 in Senegal.
I ordered the book before the holiday ended. Returned home and devoured it, then ordered the sequel- Chasing Hornbills- Up To My Neck In Africa.
I just found the whole thing, charming, funny, romantic and often ridiculous. The tightrope of the middle class Englishman and his Tribeman alter ego, often bumbling his way through, not even pretending to have a clue what he was doing- had me chuckling, and admiring him at the same time. Even if I had, no first-hand knowledge of Africa, I still would have enjoyed it. No doubt at all.
Sometimes, when you read something, a chain reaction starts, a series of events is set in motion. The lovely gift of a travel guide, led me to 2 books I fully submersed in, a fascination for the Jola tribe, and the determination that I would go and stay at the Eco-guesthouse, in Abene, Casamance.
I will write more about my Gambian adventure on the Places Blog. I really do recommend you read Simon’s first book Order Here, see how it makes you feel, and take it from there.
Bertha Ringer was born into a well to do family in Germany in 1849 . Being a woman of means, she was therefore able to invest her money, as she saw fit. Until such time she married, and revoked all rights to her own finances.
Miss Ringer invested some of this wealth, into a Karl Benz. She shored up his failing iron construction company, and a couple of years later, they tied the knot. Karl continued to invent, using funds from other investors and his wife’s (now his) wealth, until such a point as he had invented the Motorwagen, which was patented in 1886.
Karl continue to tinker with and improve his Motorwagen, whilst selling only small amounts of them in the process. They were seen as limited in terms of distances they could travel, and required an accompanying mechanic for any journey. Which basically, sounds a bit crap. Marketing did not appear to be Karl’s strong point.
2 years later in 1888, Bertha, restricted by ridiculous notions of a woman’s place in society, and possibly exasperated after years of her Husband’s expensive tinkering, did a ‘F**k this s**t status update, TWOC’d his Motorwagen Mark 3, and did one to her Mum’s. It was the 5th Of August.
Bertha had not mentioned to Karl that she was bobbing over to visit his mother In law, she apparently just left him a note on the kitchen table. Nor did she get permission from the authorities, which meant that her journey was illegal.
So what best to do when committing an offence?? Take some of your kids to implicate them too. It is not entirely like training your kids to shoplift, but never the less, it was naughty.
Good move Bertha, good move.
Bertha, and her teenage sons , set off in the early hours for the clandestine journey of around 66 miles. Having no fuel tank, and dependent on a supply in the small carburetor, Bertha would have to purchase fuel along the way, procuring it from a chemist on route.
Having only 2 gears, the car needed to be pushed up any inclines (smart enough to take the kids along), and then ridden precariously downhill at speed due to the rather inadequate braking system.
Imagine the 3 wheeler, hurtling , unstable, picking up pace. Naff brakes, the fear of the Rozzers on your back and 2 kids threatening to grass you up.
During the journey, Bertha improvised and overcame several hurdles including unblocking a fuel pipe with a hatpin ( they were bloody massive you know those things- you could definitely get done for carrying an offensive weapon).
Whipping her skirts up like she was on a Hen Party Minibus, she removed her garter (I know…..outrageous) and used it as insulation. My garter could be used as a tent. I have thick thighs.
The brakes were wooden, and had never been beasted on a downhill, so they soon started to fail. Bertha, casually bobbed in to a cobblers, and oversaw the addition of thick leather ‘brake pads’ in order to minimise the chance of dying going down the next brew.
Being a supporter of local business #shoplocal, she decided to let a blacksmith in on the act too, and they dutifully repaired a chain for the rebellious Bertha. I do wonder if they had phoned ahead to each other to warn of the approaching madwoman, but I feel they probably just sent a text. It’s easier.
Topping up the water at every stop to stop the evaporative cooling system from…well…evaporating… Bertha and the boys finally made it to her parents house. 66 miles, in a mere 12 hours.
Being the dutiful wife, Bertha sent a telegram to Karl advise of her arrival, who may have got it whilst in the pub, oblivious that his wife was not at home.
A couple of days later, Bertha made the return journey, in an improved and adapted Mark 3, completing the first real test drive of any motorcar.
Bertha’s bold move, did indeed, bring the number of likes and shares that the Benz Motorwagen Marketing Team was severely lacking. The image of the product as an expensive, limiting folly was replaced with one of a vehicle with real possibility. They set about incorporating Bertha’s improvements into all of the vehicles they produced. The extra low gear to get up hills, freeing teenage boys everywhere from pushing for their supper.
Whether she got bollocked on her return, I know not, but I do imagine for a while she was ‘that friend’ that blokes didn’t really want their wives to knock about with. She did after all, flash her garter in public.
Bertha Benz nee Ringer