I feel that I should start this post by admitting that this My Midsummer Morning review is quite different to the one I was expecting to write.
I’ve read a couple of Alastair Humphreys’ previous books about cycling around the world and am a big fan of his microadventure concept. So I was expecting his latest offering to be filled with exciting stories about his quirky adventure across Spain. I was also looking forward to reading about the characters he met as he took on the challenge of busking his way through the country.
However, what I hadn’t been prepared for was how deeply personal this book is.
The subtitle to Humphreys’ book is “Rediscovering a Life of Adventure” and in it he follows a similar journey made by Laurie Lee in 1935. In his book “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning”, Lee documents his own walk across Spain, during which he played his violin to earn money for food.
Alastair had always loved Lee’s book and was keen to recreate it. There was just one problem: he doesn’t play the violin. However, never one to let a little matter like that get in the way of an adventure, Alastair takes a crash course in the instrument and sets off.
But while this begins as a book about facing his fear of busking in public, it also becomes about another theme which scares him. Alastair is terrified of turning his back on a life of adventure and settling down. Already married with two children, Alastair spends a great deal of the book exploring his family relationships and tackling the discord between his previous life of grand adventures and the domesticated one he is currently living.
We read My Midsummer Morning for a summer special of #travelbookclub (a book club I run on Twitter). During our subsequent discussion we talked about how different it felt to Alastair’s previous books.
Personally I think it was a brave book to write, as I feel like it tackles a lot of issues people may feel but don’t want to say out loud. It especially shows how difficult it is to return to ‘normal’ life after completing an amazing achievement (such as cycling around the world). This was something I felt myself after my own grown up gap year and I’m sure many people can relate to it.
Reading it provides a good insight into the mindset of someone who takes on big challenges and it made me realise why some people seem to live moving from one challenge to the next. I also feel as though it tackled issues which men often don’t want to talk about, such as mental health and relationships.
Another of the themes we discussed in #travelbookclub was the similarities and differences between Alastair and Laurie Lee’s journeys. While Alastair tried to recreate Lee’s as faithfully as he could – travelling with zero money and sleeping outside every night, he did obviously have technology with him. Although he did not use it for communication purposes or to listen to music, he did film himself during his journey and updated his social media channels. This is understandable, because at the end of the day he knew he had a book to sell at the end of it. But I did feel that while he enjoyed the whimsical, carefree days of his trip, he had a different motive to Lee for taking the journey.
However something both men had in common was being at the mercy of the public. One of the aspects of the book I found really interesting was the psychology around busking. As time passed, Alastair could tell who was going to give him money and who wasn’t. He also learnt how he had to catch someone at exactly the right moment. His experience has certainly made me pay more attention to buskers!
We also talked about the challenges the trip provided. As well as tackling the physical aspects of the journey: the busking, camping and walking; it was also mentally demanding for Alastair. I think he learnt a number of lessons during the trip. They include, the importance of living in the present. That family is what matters most. That it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone. And that people are kind.
Another question we talked about in #travelbookclub was whether we thought Alastair’s trip had achieved what he needed it to. In the moment it seemed to have and he actually said: “I could not remember when I had last felt this consistently happy.” However, it was unclear whether he would be able to maintain this feeling of contentedness. But I really hope so. I think by the end of the book the reader is really rooting for him.
The final thing we discussed in #travelbookclub and something which I felt was very important, was whether there would have been the same reaction to the book if it had been a mother doing the trip.
As a relatively new mum, this was something I thought about a lot as I was writing this My Midsummer Morning review. In a way I could identify with some of what Alastair was saying about how much life changes when you have kids. But I couldn’t help feeling that if a mother had done the same, leaving her family behind for a month, she would have had a lot more negative comments about it. As it is, I’ve read lots of other reviews and this is something which hasn’t been commented on at all, which is interesting in itself…