Persuading You To See For Yourself

17th September 2022 |

I suppose it’s about time I started believing what people tell me. For forty years now they have been saying that it was my book that inspired them to get on their bikes in the first place, and then out into the world. I have always been afraid of letting all that praise go to my head but now, at 91, perhaps I can let go and be proud of that achievement because I believe strongly that individuals travelling in that way can only be good for society.

And yet, at the same time, when I’m asked to talk to an audience about my experiences I have very mixed feelings. I talked to a tentful of friends at the Overland Event near Oxford (pictured above) and a few days later I talked to a room full of people at a lovely pub called The Richard Onslow in Cranleigh, Surrey.

Sara Linley, who runs a motorcycle apparel shop in Guildford with her husband Chris, approached me two months ago. It was their friend, Elspeth Beard, who lives nearby in a converted water tower, a quite extraordinary building, who suggested that they ask me to talk when I was over in the UK for the biker festival at Ragley Hall. The talk was such a success that when I came back to the UK this time for Paddy Tyson’s Overland Event they asked me to do it again.

My job is still to convince people that nothing can compare with riding out alone into the world and yet, even as I’m talking, I can’t help feeling a little sad. I know that no one today could hope to experience it in the way I did.

I was lucky of course, very lucky. I set off around the world at a very good time – in 1973 – long before ordinary people like us dreamed of communicating with anything more sophisticated than the telephone. The world was divided up, more or less, into compartments. Unless it was your business to know what was happening outside your bailywick people generally had only a vague idea of what was going on in the rest of the world, or what it looked like. True, after the war “Wogs” didn’t begin at Calais anymore, but people and places beyond the edges of Europe were only dimly recognisable to most people. No Instagram, very few pictures at all, and no blogs.

The little I knew of South America was mostly coloured by my stepfather’s description of various sordid ports he visited when he worked as an engineer on merchant ships, and my ideas of Africa were shaped by the war, and novelists such as Rider Haggard and Joseph Conrad.

Today we all see and know too much about the outside world, but what we know is shaped by others who decide what we should know, and what they want us to believe. How often travellers today find, when they arrive at some distant destination, that what they see and hear is nothing like what they’ve been told.

You could say I’m guilty too; that if you had travelled to, say, Zimbabwe at the same time I did, in 1974, you might have seen it quite differently, but in my defence I say Jupiter’s Travels is not reportage. It is as much about how the world affected me, as it is a picture of the world, and one of Its purposes is to persuade you, the reader to go and see for yourself. And although the world is very different today that is still my purpose and it seems, to some extent, I have succeeded. I think the people who listen to me, know that. And I’m grateful.