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REVIEW: These Are They Days That Must Happen To You by Dan Walsh

June 12, 2012

These Are the Days that Must Happen To You

Dan Walsh

Century

375 pages

PRICE £18.99 (HB)

I’ll cut to the chase. This is a brilliant book. I’ve read all manner of motorcycle adventures and accounts, from Charlie and Ewan’s Long Way Round/Down diaries, to Ted Simon’s Jupiter’s Travels and more off-the-wall offerings (Hunter S. Thompson, here’s looking at you!). I first came across Dan Walsh (like so many others, I am sure) in BIKE magazine. I had my own business at the time, and was going through a period of extreme and utter miserableness, and so it was with great pleasure I’d receive BIKE magazine every month, and read about  Dan’s woes. There’s nothing like hearing about somebody’s else’s troubles to really cheer you up- and did Dan have troubles, many of his own making, if I (and he) is brutally honest.

This book contains Dan’s motorcycle overland adventures, first from Blighty and through Africa (to a rather sour end of the adventure in Kenya, an incident filled with theft, kidnap, threats of violence, corrupt police and some rather unsavoury locals), and then from a fresh start in Canada, down through New York, across the States and down to Mexico and The Americas. Oh, and there’s a bit in the middle which feels crow-barred in, a few squished in columns from Dan’s time in London between trips.

Dan’s writing starts off good, despite what some moaning muppets complaining to Bike’s letter pages originally whined. It starts off good, gets better and better, and by the point Dan’s ready to commit suicide in Buenos Aires, he is in full poetic stride.

“I miss specifics – roaring Old Trafford Saturdays with my Da, cozy Sunday roasts with my Ma, bed-wetting drunk on a school night with our Kid. Sometimes it does get lonely. It doesn’t last. Just drink a beer, talk to myself, spank that monkey. What? Miss some people, find more humanity. Same wrong night in Guinea I give up in a village. A filfthy, freaked-out foreigner wearing mud skin and weird boots. They feed me, water me, bed me. How would I respond if an unknown West African knocked on my door at midnight needing help?”

Dan’s a real person, a man’s man, and writes with empathy and intelligence and humanity. And observational comedy. Dan is the Ben Elton of the motorbike traveller’s comedy club.

“‘It is the responsibility of every South African to make this country great again.’ I tell him that his fine words are only slightly undermined by the fact that he’s just tried to sell me a wrap of Nigerian coke and a discount ticket for Sergeant Pecker’s Strip Club. He laughs. We go for a drink… Someone’s put ‘Lady in Red’ on the jukebox a dozen times. I’m the youngest drunk in there by a bad twenty years, and that includes the hookers. Classy girls – their tattoos are spelt right.”

So you’re banging along, page after page after page, enjoying yourself immensely until you get to Buenos Aires. And it gets very serious. Arse.  “So we create a nocturnal hobo jungle of casual criminality, loveless violence and petty sex. Even nihilists need a schedule, and ours seldom changes… Dignified waiters in bleached aprons serve coffee and croissants to the respectable ready-for-workers, and frosty beers and colder smiles to our crew of growling idiots crouched in the corner round a table full of empties, listening through our arseholes, scratching at our eyeballs and chewing off our bleeding lips… ‘Ay, los esqualidos.’ The squalid ones. The door swings shut and I p*** away the last drops of my soul.”

What can I say, this is not just a description of a trip on a motorcycle; this is a soap opera, a narrative, a precisely plotted dramatisation of a likeable man hitting rock bottom; and if you have any soul, you’ll cheer with Dan, you’ll live with Dan, and you’ll suffer with Dan. This book infuses you with emotions. It kicks Dan’s empathy and humanity into the back of your skull. It doesn’t ask you to agree, but it asks you to listen, and in my opinion this is the greatest set of motorcycle travel diaries known to man. I’ll leave you with this section, and urge you to check out this book. Despite being a collection of magazine columns, it’s a brilliant work of genius and emotion in its own right.

“The maid’s been in. Bed made, clothes folded, books stacked, papers tidied. I glance down. A printout of Hunter S. Thompson’s suicide note glances back. ‘No more Games … No More Walking. No More Fun.’ I get the message. The only thing we’re missing is Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ muzak in the elevator. I walk onto the balcony and smoke. Sully God’s view on my vulture’s perch. Then crouch on the ledge, a pot-bellied gargoyle leering out of Chapel Perilous. What the hell happened, man? I guess I just had to know. I had to know what happens if you just keep going. And now I do know. You sail off the edge. There is no bottom step.”

RATING: 92% UAM Gold Award.

AR

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