Another review! But, unlike my usual reviews, this one is not about a history book but, indeed, a travel/adventure/endurance book. I knew one of the authors (Paul Archer) from our schooldays together, so I was intrigued by this project of his as it grew in magnitude over the medium of social media. Hence the review here!
(Review) Paul Archer & Johno Ellison, It’s on the Meter, (Summersdale Publishing, 2016)
Pages: 319 ISBN: 9781849538251
Stupidity is an underrated attribute in a person. When I think of someone making a stupid decision, my labelling of it taints the idea with sour notes of inexperience, ill-conception, poor foresight, and possible delusion. Yet there is another facet to stupidity that is often ignored. Stupidity breaks the social expectations and conventions that control our very actions. Stupidity ignores the small doubts in our heads, which prevent us from trying something ‘out of the box’. Furthermore, there is a fine-line between stupidity and bravery: to act in a brave manner you must do something that goes against normal decision making and behaviour. To be brave you must do something very few people would do. And the reason that people would not do it is because, in the cold light of day, it is stupid. A firefighter, for instance, is an undoubtedly brave person, but choosing to run into a fire is quite clearly stupid. The point, I suppose, is that the differentiation between stupidity and bravery is context specific. So, with this in mind, what do we make of three 20-something lads (Johno Ellison, Paul Archer and Leigh Purnell) deciding to circumnavigate the world in an old, poorly maintained, London black cab called Hannah? Bravery or stupidity?
The aim of the trip – planned in a pub, where else? – was to rack up the largest taxi fare possible, and claim a world record as a result. Their route started in London and would see them traverse northern Europe, through Scandinavia, into Russia, down through the old Soviet Bloc, enter the Middle East, continue into Pakistan (against all advice given from day one by the looks of it), into India, up through Nepal, around China, down into Southeast Asia, hopping over to Australia, where they were originally meant to finish. For reasons I will not explain (for the sake of suspense within the book), the journey continues over to America, then to Israel (with a passport that says you’ve recently visited Iran!), then back through Europe and home to London once more.
In a trip fraught with cock-ups, break downs, corrupt police, ill-advised choices of guides, and an awful lot of alcohol, the three intrepid adventurers spent 450 days driving around the world, amassing a taxi fare of £79,006.80 and claiming two world records in the process: ‘Longest Journey Completed by a Taxi’, and while in the Himalayas they claimed the ‘Highest Altitude Reached by a Taxi’. In the process they raised £20,000 for the British Red Cross. The unofficial prize for the ‘most stupid thing’ done on the trip is debatable, but camping and taking photos next to an Iranian military installation, set up to protect Iran’s nuclear reactor, must come damn close!
The book itself is split between two narrators (Paul and Johno), which gives this book a real charm. You feel like you are amidst two friends regaling you with their stories; often contradicting one another, and at times seemingly taking up the sentence the other had started. While the authors seem overly-aware of their age and position (they often refer to themselves as 20-something, red blooded males), they understate what they are actually doing – breaking down barriers, seeing the world beyond the media’s portrayal, and seeing everything that they want to see (something that cannot be said for many travellers I know). This book has the air of a classic, travel adventure, rather than the usual travel-log. This is not a simple ‘gap year’, something that causes us to roll our eyes at the mere suggestion, these three men decided to do something productive, something worthwhile, and have fun doing it.
The literary flair in the text fluctuates between the awe inspired, beautifully poetic descriptions of Angkor Wat, to the horrifically graphic descriptions of Paul’s bowel movements in India – not to mention a Welshman’s concerning enamour with the taxi herself. . . that’s enough said there I think. The hidden characters in the book are just as fascinating as the tale itself. Female friends, sisters, and girlfriends, appear sporadically: usually saving the day in one way or another, or else joining the trip as passengers. For all of the candid access the authors offer to life on the road, the one area of secrecy is given to these external relationships, which is fitting I think. However, and maybe it is the Dad in me, but I did think a few times, ‘what on earth must their mums be thinking right now!’
Ultimately, this book is a fantastic read. Well written and full of heart. This is not a ‘lads on tour’ book, nor is it a ‘coming of age’, this book is an all-stage pass into the inner workings of adventure, at a time when adventure is harder and harder to come by. It offers wisdom into traveling, or perhaps on how best not to travel, and should be read by anyone who likes anything about . . . the world.
P.S. The jury is still out on whether this is the bravest story I have read in a while, or the stupidest. Either way, a stupid plan concocted in a pub has given rise to one of the great modern adventure stories.