End to End by Paul Jones is a book about the people who have attempted the Lands End to John O Groats cycling record. It is also an exploration of the author’s own inner journey framed around his personal efforts to cycle the distance.
I haven’t read too many cycling books recently. Quite a few generic cycling books end up saying similar things. There are only so many books you want to read on the Tour de France, to say nothing of the interminably awful doping confession books I read several years ago.
With Paul Jones’ cycling books, at the very least, you know you are getting to get a new insight on a cycling subject, which has rarely been covered before. I looked forward to getting a copy, which I did from Blackwells.
In the first few chapters, I took some time to get into the book. There were a lot of personal opinions and insights into the author’s views and inner state of mind. (I was really surprised to learn Paul was a headmaster of a school!) There is admirable honesty and frankness, but it isn’t necessarily what I am looking for in a book.
If it is in places a little heavy going with personal stuff and a legitimate sense of injustice, I started to see it as a metaphor for a long distance endurance ride. Sometimes, it rains, but then you turn a corner and you remember why you made the effort.
The strength of Paul Jones as a writer is to take a relatively obscure rider and make their achievements feel impressive and worth knowing about. There are some end to enders I know something about – Eileen Sheridan (Wonder Wheels), John Woodburn (used to often talk about his End to End attempts at local time trials), but there were many new characters who I enjoyed reading about and finding what made them tick and why there were able to achieve something so unique. Like Jones’ other books, you feel a sincere celebration of the unsung amateur club rider. Men and women who achieved remarkable things and in a way that is much more inspiring than many of the so-called modern celebrities.
About halfway through the book I was thinking, it is a good book, but I probably won’t write a review. I’m not suitably enthusiastic about it. But, an interesting thing is that towards the end of the book, I started to feel genuinely inspired. Something clicked and you felt the real value of this great collective effort to transcend the limits through one of the hardest cycling challenges. Paul’s writing brings to life this difficult event and it shines a good light on the diverse characters who have made the end to end.
When I was a teacher I used to fine students 10p for swearing and with some students I made a lot of money! If there was 10p fine for swearing in this book, I think I would have got a 70% reduction on the price of the book. But, the corollary is that sometimes, Paul really hits the sweet spot for certain droll humour, where the words fly effortlessly in a seaming stream of consciousness that sweeps you along. Which living author could write so well about an inconspicuous lay-by, situated in the post-industrial waste that is Wolverhampton, on a gloomy, wet winter evening?
For me, the book was like an end to end, there were bits where you were struggling a little uphill, then flying downhill. But, by the end, you knew you were glad you had done it and really understood something of a very uplifting part of cycling.
Overall, I would recommend the book and it makes a good addition to any cycling library.
Buying books online. During lockdown I have settled into buying everything online and to my great shame usually end up at the greedy monopolist Amazon. But, for books, I make a stand and always buy them elsewhere. Blackwells is a very good alternative to Amazon.
End to End – Blackwells
I would often talk to the late John Woodburn after local time trials. Actually, it was more him talking to me. He would often bring up the End to End. What I remember is he complained bitterly that his sponsors made him do the record when he was ill (his attempt that failed). He was also incredibly annoyed that when someone broke his record, they did it by the smallest of margins. As usual with John Woodburn, I would listen to his stories with rapt attention and then break out into nervous laughter not knowing whether he was being serious, angry or really happy. The book was worth buying just for the realisation that it wasn’t just me, but everyone found John Woodburn a wonderful enigma.
I remember when Mike Broadwith broke the End to End, it was a great event.
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