The pleasures – and perils – of getting on your bike

Jody Rosen lives and cycles in Brooklyn, which makes him what the Mexican essayist Julio Torri calls ‘a suicide apprentice’. He has been ‘rear-ended’ and ‘doored’ several times. He quotes an unnamed cyclist who likens the click of a car door being opened to the sound of a gun being cocked. ‘Get a bicycle,’ said Mark Twain. `You will not regret it, if you live.’ This rangy, digressive book contains just about the right amount of bicycle history and mechanics for the unobsessed. Rosen is not a bicycle fetishist. He can ‘barely patch an inner tube’, though he does enjoy the ticking-clock simplicity of the shiny contraptions which carry the

The great breakfast dilemma: should baked beans be part of a full English?

A popular pastime in Britain is to post one’s breakfast on social media for strangers to pass judgment on bacon crispiness, egg doneness and whether baked beans are a vital component or just spoil the whole thing. Felicity Cloake is a writer after my own heart: she is not a fan of beans with her full English. ‘I object to the way they encroach on everything,’ she writes in Red Sauce Brown Sauce, and then quotes Alan Partridge on the importance of ‘distance between the eggs and the beans. I may want to mix them, but I want that to be my decision. Use a sausage as a breakwater.’ Or,

We could all once tell bird’s-foot trefoil from rosebay willowherb

‘There are a great many ways of holding on to our sanity amid the vices and follies of the world,’ wrote Ronald Blythe in 2008, ‘though none better than to walk knowledgeably among our native plants.’ To many today, when the age-old connection between people and their indigenous flora is in danger of being extinguished altogether, this pronouncement may seem eccentric; but is rightly endorsed by Leif Bersweden in Where the Wildflowers Grow, which vividly describes the botanical journey through Britain and Ireland he undertook last year. He was born in 1994 and, unusually for his generation, has been a keen amateur botanist since childhood. There was a time, not

Journey to ‘the grimmest place in the world’

Suffering from post-traumatic stress and the effects of government austerity measures, Paul Jones resigned as the head of an inner-city secondary school and, ‘an idiot without a job’, decided to cycle from Land’s End to John o’Groats in four stages spread over ten months. He had raced occasionally with professional cyclists but had never ridden more than 127 miles in a day. His aim was to ‘dissect a brain slice of the country’, to find some relief from the ‘formless terror’ of his mental landscape, and to subject himself to the torture of a long-haul literary endeavour. It took him three years to produce this companionable and energetic book about