the escape artist - life from the saddle. matt seaton the fourth estate 182pp £14.99 hardback
i first read an extract from this book in the guardian weekend magazine and was rather inrigued and yet disappointed. i am always intrigued by the number of books that are written about cycling as a general topic since it makes me realise that that i'm not the only one that is besotted by bicycles. the publishers very kindly sent me a copy for this review for which i am eternally grateful.
the escape artist is billed as a book by a man who was seriously into cycling and cycle racing before he married and continued through the early years of marriage to indulge this greatest of passions. then, however, becoming a father of twins, gradually realised the enormity of this situation and let the bike 'go'.
now many of you, like me, will find this incomprehensible. cycling is life - the rest is mere detail screenprinted on the front of one of my t-shirts and i still believe every word of it. orbea currently advertise their bikes with the slogan 'if life is a competition, then cycling is life'. so how could someone who lived to train every spare minute on his bike, shaves his legs, raced for britain in ireland, actually refers to 'the comic' as 'the comic' in print give all this up long before he was too old for it to give him up?
doubtless the marketing of this book in this way was designed to get people like me (and hopefully you too) to buy the book and find out. matt seaton and ruth picardie, his eventual spouse couldn't have kids normally and decided to submit themselves to the rigours of ivf. has anyone who knows anyone who has done likewise, this often causes more hardship and discomfort for the female partner than for the male.
so while ruth was suffering the 'delights' of ivf and, subsequently, pregancy with twins. matt was still able to shave his legs and continue with guilt tinged cycling (we've all been there and, indeed, some of us still are) at least at the weekends. since the man had managed to progress through the bicycle range to owning a top range machine, much in the same way that miost of us would like to, ably justified by his continued competition 'career' (i don't nor have ever, raced and so have considerable difficulty in justifying anything remotely tinged with carbon fibre or titanium).
the sting in the tail, and the factor that pretty much none of us could deny is that matt's partner and mother of his twin children, got cancer. there's no answer to that. how would any of us deal with having to care for two very young children while simultaneously dealing with someone close dying in front of them? slowly?
exactly. i think we'd all deal with it in our own way but, having approached the book with a certain degree of disdain for mr seaton in 'giving up' cycling (how could he?) i ended the book with a great deal of admiration for the man. not only in giving up his life's passion because life demanded it but for the selfless way in which he took on new and thrust upon responsibilities.
as it says in the jacket inset 'a reckoning with real life and, ultimately, a reappraisal of why cycling had become so compelling in the first place. Today (those) bikes are scattered, sold, or gathering dust in an attic.' this latter phrase will have most of us screaming (it does me) but read the book and it all makes sense. each chapter begins with a particularly apt quote taken from a variety of sources - 'marriage is a wonderful invention; but then again, so is a bicycle repair kit' billy connolly.
the man knows his cycling, his bikes and cycle racing and until the inevitable, the book is massively entertaining, well written, obsessed with the need to shave your legs if you're a 'real' cyclist and most of us will identify with several aspects of each chapter.
matt seaton has apparently re-married after the death of ruth picardie and is currently parents editor at the guardian (which partly explains why the guardian magazine was willing to trailer a book about cycling - at the time of writing, johan museeuw has just won paris roubaix for the third time at the age of 36 and merits only a paragraph in the sport section of the same paper. michael schumacher predictaby won the san marino grand prix on the same afternoon and yet had a whole page and photo dedicated to it. something the cycling fan will be far more used to).
if i were you, i'd log on to amazon.co.uk the minute you stop reading the washing machine post and order a copy of this book - and one for a friend. the story about what it means to give up something fiercely loved in return for a kind of wisdom.
Remember, you can still read the review of 'the dancing chain' the utterly excellent book on the history of the derailleur bicycle by clicking here
any of the books reviewed on the washing machine post can probably be purchased from amazon.co.uk or amazon.com
as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.
this column almost never appears in the dead tree version of the ileach but appears, regular as clockwork, on this website every two weeks. (ok so i lied) sometimes there are bits added in between times, but it all adds to the excitement.
on a completely unrelated topic, ie nothing to do with bicycles, every aspect of the washing machine post was created on apple macintosh ibook and imac computers, using adobe golive 5 and adobe photoshop 6.0.1. needless to say it is also best viewed on an apple macintosh computer.