Pedals And Petticoats, Mary Elsy (2005)

Four young women cycle through Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, France and Spain in the summer of 1950 – enjoyably recounted, fifty years later

Sumersdale 1 84024 439 9 Paperback 247pp

In this age of the apparently universal gap year, it is usual to marvel at the audacity of a venture such as that undertaken by Mary Elsy and her friends. And yet, it is clear from her story, that vagabonding, as some then called it, was by no means unusual in the 1950s.

Elsy and co bump into Pete and John, another couple of youthfull wanders at several points on their circular tour. Indeed when they get to Florence, for the extraordinary sounding ‘International Camping Rally’, they even have an unexpected encounter with Agnes’ parents.

Nonetheless, it is the pretext of this book, as much as anything else that keeps this book bowling along. It is a jolly fine thing that four young women had the wit and the determination to see such an adventure through. There is easily sufficient here to make pleasurable the vicarious enjoyment of their travels.

The scrapes and moments of serendipity that they experience are pretty much what you would expect – misunderstandings at hotels and unwanted amorous advances. And, travelogue does not lend itself to the real development of so many characters.

The book does, however, provide a snapshot of Europe as the dust of war settled, and the attitudes of some young Britons to countries against which we pitched total war for nearly six years.

It would be nice to think that it might serve as an inspiration for young people and their parents who are considering a coming-of-age travel experience. An unsupported circumnavigation of Europe can have a lot more developmental value – not to say, simple pleasure – than a packaged experience on the beaches of south-east Asia.

PS April 09

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