in case it has escaped your notice, or you don't really care anyway (a perfectly acceptable reaction), i live on an island. an island that does have its own airport, and therefore a means of flying to and from glasgow should the need arise. however, since that does nothing for my carbon footprint or bank balance, i am much more inclined to travel by caledonian macbrayne ferry; a far slower method of reaching scotland, but pleasantly relaxing. and aside from a friend of mine who owns a screamingly powerful rigid inflatable on which i have had a few white-knuckle rides, that is the sum total of my seagoing experience. car ferries and ribs.
so now that i have made you aware of this state of affairs, why am i reviewing a book about sailing on thewashingmachinepost? you perhaps thought this was where you read about cycling in all its road-going facets? those of you with an affinity for walloping up and down dual carriageways on stealth-like carbon fibre while leaning your elbows on tri-bars will doubtless be well aware of who michael hutchinson is, as will readers of the comic. but for those of you not familar with the name, michael is one of the fastest men on two wheels on the british time-trial scene, who's previous book for yellow jersey press was entitled the hour, concerning his unfortunately failed attempt at the hour record. michael is a very funny guy, making his books (and weekly column) massively entertaining. of course, you may well have inferred this from this book's title.
so what is a renowned time-triallist, a competitor at the commonwealth games, and hour record attempter doing writing about sailing? well, many cyclists (and civilians) have the luxury of being multi-faceted in their present careers, and prone to having a history before today arrived on the scene. michael hutchinson grew up in northern ireland, where his first obsession was, surprisingly enough, sailing. possibly like many a youngster who aspires to a career as a sportsperson, while the dreams were of the massive yachts that inhabit the upper reaches of the world of water, and sailing single-handed around the world, the reality was a mite more mundane for a young hutchinson: carrick fergus sailing club and playing about in a dinghy on belfast lough. scribbled schoolbooks and weekends on the lough, all the while acquiring anorak status with a head full of sailing knowledge continued throughout michael's school years, but drifted the way of the dodo when further education beckoned.
similarly to horse riding, it's a common (mis)conception that the sailing world is populated by captain birdseye and the extremely rich. apparently the sailing club at university subscribed to just this very theory, discarding the young hutchinson's sailing experience and his application to join, because he hadn't been to the right school. and so ended michael's initial period of sailing, with studies and subsequently cycling taking up the slack. but the hankering for a life on the ocean wave never quite disappeared and when the notion sublimely eased its way back to the hutchinson psyche, it was love at second sight.
the bulk of this book is about that second wind, and it is utterly brilliant. michael hutchinson is a master not only of self-deprecation, but of droll humour at its very best. there can be little less disconcerting to loved ones, while they watch endless soaps on telly, to have the cyclist in the corner continuously laughing out loud, and for that to persist over a period of several days.
if i travel by bus to glasgow, it has no option but to take me through tarbert, a dingy little town in which i doubt anything much happens; it's just somewhere you pass through. however, it holds an annual regatta, with a marquee on the pierside with a bar and a band - i know because one year, i played in one of those bands. at that point, a substantial proportion of the world's sailing population seemed to have descended upon this little fishing village, and it then became a busy, dingy little town. in one of those skillful demonstrations of writing talent, michael manages to make tarbert seem the equal of st tropez. that alone is worth a round of applause. from there it could only venture upwards; in the words of jiminy cricket 'there's more', and it is a more than enjoyable voyage.
as portrayed above, i have no real desire to sail anywhere than to scotland, and certainly not for fun, (though i did design a brochure for stormcats of lagavulin), so thewashingmachinepost bookcase holds a complete dearth of books on the subject; in fact hello sailor is the sole occupant under that heading. so if you, like me, are less than interested in messing about on the river, rush out to your nearest bookseller and get a copy of this - you will love it forever. michael hutchinson, i would venture to propose, is the new bill bryson, an epithet of which you will already be aware, should you have read his book, the hour.
a level of humour and brilliance to be admired.
michael hutchinson's 'hello sailor' is published by yellow jersey press at £12.99, and doubtless available from amazon and other sources.
posted on wednesday april 8 2009..........................................................................................................................................................................................................