i never made it to higher chemistry. in fourth year at school it was decided that my class was unlikely to pass the exam with only a single year's tuition, so we would undertake a higher in the science over two years. this was, as you may have already surmised, not the school's finest moment. tell a bunch of teenage kids that they don't have to sit an exam at the end of the year, and there's every chance they'll pay little or no attention to the teacher throughout that year. which is precisely what happened.
in retrospect, i feel sorry for my chemistry teacher. she wasn't long out of teaching college and undoubtedly knew her subject well, but combine the above circumstances with an apparent inability to teach particularly well, and the lack of a chemistry higher amongst my palmares seems less surprising than might once have been the case. however, for no particular reason, i always remember learning all about catalysts, substances that promote or assist chemical reactions without being chemically involved themselves.
however, on the basis that i have no formal qualification in the science and the fact that this is supposed to be all about bicycles, in one form or another, i'll get slightly more directly to the point of stating that the bicycle itself is a catalyst.
our interest in the world of professional cycle racing may well have been as a result of an interest in the bicycle itself. that was my route. having once built a road bicycle from a combination of campagnolo groupset and steel frame, as well as having built the wheels, the next obvious step was to take a look at what might conceivably be done with that genre of bicycle.
from a whole different perspective, those with a penchant or predilection for touring, exploring or simply wandering, frequently do so by means of the bicycle. in such cases, the bicycle acts as a catalyst for what transpires in odd and obscure portions of our planet. andrew welch, on the basis of his book between worlds, is something of a wanderer. the realities of entry and exit visas and the prejudices of certain countries against western residents means that wandering in the true spirit of the word, is often untenable. there must be some degree of planning and organising to facilitate this wandering.
welch is, if not wealthy, certainly comfortably provided for. his bicycle enabled meanderings through pakistan, india, afghanistan, mongolia and russia do not seem to suffer from a lack of funding. he occasionally picks up some web design work when the notion takes him. but a financial ability to decide when and where to freely donate a bicycle or two to deserving causes is not only noble, but not the act of one wondering from whence his next meal will come.
if there is a slight disconnect in his travels, it's a seeming ability to return home to england with little fuss or inconvenience, either physically or financially. however, i do not wish to portray him as some form of western playboy. though the book both suffers and excels from the fact that there really is no beginning and no end, welch is not unaware of his own motivation.
"I attended parties and danced until the early hours with Georgiansm French friends and ex-pats. I travelled the country and was immersed in the local culture through the community of friends. I was always busy, but I felt that there was something missing."
where many would perhaps retreat from the world, and meditate upon this state of mind, welch opted for the more outgoing approach, packing up his bicycle and meandering through several middle eastern countries to experience life at a more basis level than his education would suggest he was used to.
an obsession with architecture is tangibly displayed in the quoted introductions to each chapter, this is explained further in chapter two "I had once considered studying to be an architect and the idea of planning and realising large concepts had always held a fascination for me..." to an extent, my sole disappointment in the book concerns his ability to describe aspects of the architecture encountered during his travels. though he obviously has a well-tuned eye for his favoured subject, a lack of any accompanying illustrations tended to lessen the impact the book might conceivably have achieved. and not solely with respect to buildings.
the bicycle itself (or themselves) are scarcely mentioned other than in perfunctory mode. he does make mention of having adopted shimano's spd system over basic pedals at one point and that his headset collapsed at one point, but other than that, this is not a bicycle touring manual to which the reader may wish to refer for future trips of their own.
andrew welch is quite obviously a more enterprising individual than myself. i can confidently state that there is not a single chance that i would ever undertake even a portion of that about which he has written. my adventurous spirit simply does not extend that far. as to his writing, i confess that the opening chapters seemed a tad too soporific and unexciting, particularly in view of the substantial number of remaining pages that promised to continue in similar vein.
however, to stumble at so early a point in proceedings would have been extremely remiss, for welch's writing has an intriguing meditative quality that takes more than a handful of pages to appreciate. as i mentioned above, there really is no why or wherefore to the raison d'etre behind between worlds, though the meaning of the title does become self-evident sooner rather than later. the ending on page 325 does not prove that the butler did it. other than a well-observed bicycle trip through countries that many of us would give as wide a berth as possible, it's very hard to describe the point of this book. it's quite likely that, in similar manner to a japanese koan, the answer will be different for each and every reader, though still ultimately satisfying.
it has its pretentious moments, but these are mostly brief departures from a grounded narrative... "Variety is attainable and rich. Home is no longer where we grow up but rather, we are all children of the world. There is no one unified theory of living. Life cannot be lived theoretically.". i doubt i need say more.
i'm none too sure of the publishing method involved. the inside back page states it was printed in the uk by amazon, so i must assume this is a self-published volume. it may have been prudent to pay a smidgeon more attention to the proofing of the text. there are some odd page breaks at one or two points in proceedings and irritating shifts between standard quotes and typographer's quotes, sometimes even on the same word. however, in mitigation, the author may not have had direct access to this aspect of the final work.
more a book for adventurers than cyclists, but i feel better for having read it nonetheless.
tuesday 14 april 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................