Twelve Wheels From Turkey, Anne Vardy (1988)

Vardy, her husband and five pre-teen children cycle from Istanbul back to Blighty in the spring and summer of 1987, in a journey partially propelled by the family’s faith

Marshall, Morgan and Scott 0 551 01776 7 paperback 196pp £2.99

The idea of a serious cycling and camping expedition with one or two children is enough to send many pedalling for the hills. Not the Vardys. Their offspring were 11, 10, 8, 6 and 3 at the time of the trip and they positively relished the idea of being together ‘as a family’ for several months.

It appears to have been a happy experience. Although in an age when young adults publish caustic memoires recounting family holidays in the 1970s, one worries that Christian, Leah, Catherine, Luke of Kirstin might be penning their own version of this sojourn even now.

Early in the book, Vardy lays down her cards as a true believer. She is a Catholic, he is an Anglican – albeit one who lectures in philosophy at a college run by Jesuits (at the time of writing this, he is the college’s vice principal). The children occasionally argue about details of early Christian history, and wherever they go, they attend services.

Their earliest travels in Turkey take up nearly half the book. They arrive apprehensive about Turks, but are quickly won over. They are generally interested in early Christian sites – Iznik (Nicea), for example, but there is plenty here that would provide food for thought for anyone considering touring in the country.

The faith on-the-sleeve approach seems initially ominous – to this atheist, at least. But it is not proselytising and throws up unexpected avenues of interest. The Vardys generally visit Churches for services – unlike us non-believing architecture buffs, who spend our holidays visiting ecclesiastical stage sets bereft of their actors. And the author experiences something of a religious crisis en route. The experience of seeing the Pope in the flesh is underwhelming compared to the connection that she has enjoyed with her family and the people who show them kindness along the way. It does not quite shake her faith the Universal Church, but she comes to a position that would be familiar to most humanists.

As the journey goes on, Vardys’ enthusiasm for recording events diminishes. Switzerland, France and England are dispensed with in two or three pages.

I started the book hoping for a fail-safe manual for touring with young children. This is not that. By the end, however, she, and the brood seem to have had a fabulous time – and perhaps that should be enough for anyone contemplating doing the same. Set out in good heart, and whatever difficulties you meet, you will find good times.

PS May 09

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