The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp — W. H. Davies

My school house master, Peter Forest, who was also my maths teacher, one day stated in front of the whole class that i’d either grow up to be the next Einstein or a tramp, and that he feared it would most probably be the latter.   Suffice it to say, i never did get around to doing that degree in theoretical physics.

So when i found this book on Amazon it reminded me of Peter Forest and his condemnation of my future and was certainly instrumental in my purchase.   I wasn’t disappointed, so thanks Peter.

The strange thing was the timing, as i let the ‘Infinite Improbability Drive’ always select my next book from ‘The Pile’ and it’s only been a couple of books since i finished ‘Into The Wild’, about Chris McCandless, AKA, Alexander Supertramp.   This book certainly flows nicely on from that.   It makes me wonder if Chris had actually read this amongst all the other books mentioned in his story.

William covers his adventures as a tramp during the late 1800’s, where he ventures far and wide.   The funniest thing for me was that he was a trustifarian.   I had no idea that these creatures existed back in the 1800, but it’s certainly true in William’s case, and he even admits it in the book.

When his grandmother died, instead of willing him her property, which she knew he would squander rather quickly, she instead put it into trust from which he was given an allowance.   So off he goes to America, tramping around, living on hand outs and goodwill, while all the time his weekly allowance from his trust fund is being saved up for his return.   And he can return at any time, by working cattle ships from Baltimore, and even getting paid while doing so.

Even later on when he gets back the England, he continues to drop out into his tramping lifestyle while his trust fund rebuilds his bank account in order to fund his next adventure.   I wonder if William was the original trustifarian, were there others before him?

Without a doubt, a very good inside look into the mind and lifestyle of the typical trustifarian.   But, on top of that, it’s a very revealing look into this odd sub-culture of the underclass of the age and the lifestyles they lead and how they managed to support themselves.   Although, one can’t really get away from realising that most of these people were simply down where they were due to alcoholism, with every opportunity of spending any penny they managed to accrue on getting drunk always eagerly taken — no, nothing much changes.

Anyways, an enlightening piece of history of the Victorian age seen from a very different view point to the normal history books and biographies.

William’s Page

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Into the Wild — Jon Krakauer

I enjoyed watching the film, a rarity for me, so when this came up on a Kindle deal for 99p i didn’t hesitate.

After watching the film i was of the mind that Chris McCandless was a total idiot, as apparently were most of the people who heard the basic story of his demise.   But was it fair on him to be portrayed in that way?   I wanted to know a bit more.

Jon was the reporter who first brought this story to the world in an article he was asked to write for ‘Outdoor Magazine’.   But he knew he hadn’t done the story justice in the time constraints that he’d had to get that article written, so he went back over the whole story and wrote this book.

And this book really does put things into context.   One thing the film doesn’t cover is the childhood that Chris and his sister suffered under a domineering, controlling, and oft times abusive, father who demanded excellence all the time, and when Chris found out the truth about his father’s excellence — how Chris and his sister came to be born — i think something really snapped inside him.   He just wanted to be free of everything his father represented, to get as far away from it as possible — and having been bought up by a father like that who i had to escape from at 15 years old into my own wilderness, i can’t blame Chris whatsoever for being like he was and doing what he did, in fact, i totally understand.

As to the writing, this story is incredibly well thought out and presented and really does put a lot of Chris’ behaviour and attitude into a much broader perspective than a film could ever hope to get to.

So if you have watched the film then please don’t just stop with that view of Chris, i don’t think that’s fair.   Take a little while, read this book and get to see a much wider picture of Chris McCandless.

Jon’s Page

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South — Ernest Henry Shackleton

A most fascinating piece of history, written up by Ernest from the diaries, logs and journals that survived his calamitous attempt at crossing the Antarctic.   It seems that if it could have gone wrong, it did go wrong.

There’s that all pervasive, Victorian attitude of bloody minded, arrogant perseverance throughout this book, and it certainly feels that that is all that kept these people alive, but it’s also what got them into the mess in the first place.

Having been beaten to be the first to get to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen, Shackleton decided to turn his sights on being the first to cross the Antarctic.   It certainly seems to me that this need to be the first, to always be proving that the British could do something quicker and better than any other nation, caused Shackleton to rush into something he was completely unprepared for.   Whereas Amundsen, being Norwegian, was obviously very used to dealing with very cold temperatures, was fully trained with sled dogs and their uses, and set out fully trained and physically fit, Shackleton appears to have just taken the bloody minded, arrogant approach of… ‘We’re British, we know what we’re doing and nothing, not even Nature, can stand in our way.   For King and Country, stiff upper lip, tally ho! — and all that!’

I just get the feeling that Shackleton’s attitude was… ‘Let’s just get going, we can’t afford to wait, we can sort it all out when we get there.’

While this book is, without a doubt, an incredible testament to the incredible bravery, fortitude and perseverance of humans to survive when pushed well beyond all imaginable limits, it’s also a testament to some incredible stupidity.

Yes, i realise, that that was the zeitgeist: to just keep throwing people, lives and equipment at a problem until it was dealt with.   Human life was not held in such high regard back then as it is today.   Spending a few years properly planning and training was simply unacceptable when other nations would have no such restraint and do it before us.   So one does have to weigh this account in that regard, and when weighted in that light Shackleton did an incredible job, and it’s always so easy to criticise with hindsight.   If the weather had been with him those years then what could have been achieved?

Anyway, while we’re on this topic, and if you want to hear more about Antarctic expeditions, the full traverse of Antarctica, solo and unaided, was only recently completed for the first time.   Have a listen…

Ernest’s Page

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The Fabulous Showman — Irving Wallace

I decided to read this to give me a little background before reading ‘The Mermaid’ and i’m really glad i did.   What a wonderful piece of history and a very interesting man.

I think, after reading this book, that if we want to blame anyone for the current cult of celebrity, modern advertising and marketing, tabloid journalism, etc., then we need look no further than P.T. Barnum.   While he may, or may not, have invented these things, he certainly brought them all together and exploited them in ways that no one was prepared for.

I do feel that this book does him justice though.   In exploring his background and reasons, from a stifled puritan childhood in a stifled puritan village, it seems his main driving force was to make life fun and interesting for all and sundry.   And his determination and drive to get things done and suceed was quite incredible.

My only complaint about this book is the timeline gets a little confused in places, hopping back and forward and back again and forward again.   But, it’s still very much worth reading as it exposes a lot about today’s modern world of celebrity, pop culture, tabloid journalism, advertising and marketing.   Maybe people shouldn’t be so gullible, but when people’s lives are so dull and tragic they’ll flock to anything that anyone markets to them that they want to believe, whether it’s true or not.   And people’s lives are probably more dull and tragic now than they have ever been.

And so i’m now really looking forward to reading ‘The Mermaid’ and i’ll let you know if learning about Barnum was a good idea or not.

Irving’s Page

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The Reason I Jump — Naoki Higashida

What a truly incredible book.

Noaki wrote this book when he was 13 years old.   A child diagnosed with autism at 5 who has struggled all his life with this incredibly difficult condition has finally learned a way to communicate through the written word.   This is a soul that has never been able to express itself before now able to tell the world what life is truly like living with autism.   The book takes the form of 58 common questions that are asked about autism and answers to each are given by Naoki.   These questions and answers are interspersed with Naoki’s prose and the book ends with a short story, also by Naoki.

It’s not a long book and it’s not a difficult read, it never goes off on tangents with pointless facts or science, it stays very much on target and is incredibly accessible.   And in so being, this makes this book a must read book for everyone, because we will all meet people with autism along our paths.   This book gives a lot of insight into just what is happening within that other human being, that there is a truly thoughtful and caring human being struggling within, and a little understanding of their abilities and disabilities would go a very long way to making their day a little better and not add any more to their struggles.

Just read it!!!

Naoki’s Page

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North – Scott Jurek

Or to give it its full title… ‘North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail’.

I really enjoyed reading Scott’s earlier book ‘Eat and Run’, so this went straight onto my Amazon Wish List as soon as it appeared on sale and then straight onto the pile when it got put on sale for 99p.   I’m very much looking forward to giving it a good reading.

Today, 2nd July 2019, Scott and Jenny Jurek just made an appearance on the ‘Plant Strong Podcast’ in which they both talk a fair bit about this massive journey they went on together — well worth a listen… ‘Fueled by Plants: Scott & Jenny Jurek’

Scott’s Page

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