Hello! And welcome to the first day of our May book club!
We’re reading a book called Free Country which was recommended by a neighbor, and it’s definitely not too late to catch up if you’re just tuning in. We read chapters 1-4 this past week and we’re all here to e-chat about them today. They’re actually called “Days” in the book (not chapters) so I’ll refer to them that way from here on out.
First, I’ll share some thoughts about each Day, and then I’ll throw out some conversation-starting questions at the end of the post. Ready? Let’s dive in!
Favorite part: When they spent the night in Harry & Caroline’s barn with “Surprise” the bull. When George said, “It was possibly the most comfortable I have ever felt. After a long, hard day or walking, cycling, scootering, begging, and blagging, the nest of hay was just what we needed”, I could just imagine how five-star that hay nest felt!
Favorite line: “Ben ripped the top off the container and we were presented with a huge pile of cold roast pork, a heap of stuffing, an enormous lump of cheese, several pieces of crackling, and a stack of thick brown bread with some sachets of butter.”
Favorite perspective: When George says, “Chill out! It’s not often that you get a chance to sleep on hay next to a prize-winning bull. There’s plenty of time for hotels and B&Bs.”
Least favorite part: When the woke up covered in black mold spores and surrounded by swarming flies. Blech!
Favorite visual: When they were descending into the St. Ives and Ben, “in a moment of lunacy”, reached out for the lamp post in an attempt to stop himself from speeding further down the hill, and was swung around in a circle, until he landed back on the pavement.” I just chuckled again typing out that sentence! 😀
Favorite new characters: Pinky and The Falcon. I could just see bike parts hanging from the ceiling in Roger Badcock’s “bike heaven” barn, couldn’t you?
Day 3 –
Favorite lines: “It was lunchtime and there was an unmistakable smell of Cornish pasties in the air. We soon found the source; Berrymans Bakery with a queue stretching out the door.”
Favorite bird: The (unremarkable) crane that George shouted to Ben about while they were descending into Porthtowan. I laughed out loud when, after he crashed into Ben (who, unbeknownst to George, had a “particular fascination with cranes”), George said, “My leg was bleeding slightly, but it was nothing serious, and after a slight readjustment, I decided my balls would recover too.” Ha!
Favorite visual: “We spent the rest of the day cycling along lanes that were so quiet that grass grew in the middle of them.”
(Built in 1806, Camelford Library, perhaps the most recognized building in town, sports a distinctive green clock tower, complete with gold camel topper.)
Favorite moment: I love that the Camelford librarian loaned them the Bike Britain book even though they didn’t have their IDs and that the author’s route was spread out over a 21-day schedule…the exact same amount of time George hoped to make their trip to in.
Favorite coincidence: When they met Reg Savill, the oldest man to have completed the journey from Lands End to John O’ Groats on foot. What are the odds, ya know?
Favorite visual: Launceston castle. I loved reading: “There was no charge to visit the area of grass just inside the outer walls of the castle, so we sat on the bank and ate ham and stale bread that Ben acquired from a nearby baker.”
How about you? Do you want to share some of your favorite parts, lines, visuals, characters, etc? I’d love to hear what resonated with/horrified/tickled you too!
Here are a few more questions about Days 1-4 to chew on as well:
1. On page 9, George says, “The idea of the penniless challenge was founded on the belief that, as a nation, we have lost sight of the basic values of humanity and kinship. We tend to be very suspicious of those that we don’t know, and of anything that falls outside the realms of normality.” He goes on to say, “I strongly believed that there was a lot of good to be found in society and that there lies within everyone the desire to help others. By traveling without money and provisions, we were putting ourselves completely at the mercy of strangers, relying on their generosity to get us through.” Do you believe that most folks are wired with the desire to help others too? Tell us about the last person you would have given an “I am OFFICIALLY a VERY nice person” card to.
2. Around 7:30 pm on Day 4, the guys arrived in Okehampton at the White Hart Hotel, one of the largest hotels in the area. They asked the manager, Glyn, if they could do some work in exchange for a place to sleep. She said if they removed ALL the leaves from the parking lot, cleaned out the trash bin room, and washed all the door and window frames on the exterior of the hotel, she’d give them dinner and a room to crash in. Almost three hours after they started their chores, and after riding 52 miles on children’s bikes that day, they completed all of their tasks. If you were in George and Ben’s position, would you have said yes to Glyn’s offer or would you have continued searching for a less labor-intensive place to stay? Tell us about a wild trade you once made.
3. Last but not least, have you ever visited any of the places George mentioned in Days 1-4? If not, would you like to? If so, which ones? You know I’m a hardcore Anglophile, so I’d love to find some of the places they passed through! After they left Dave and Annie on Day 4, they followed a route known as the Camel Trail. It’s a stretch of old railway that’s been converted into a path for walking and cycling. They joined the path just after leaving Nanstallon and said, “it was a pleasure to cycle along…accompanied by a chorus of birds, we wound our way through forests and along the bank of the river Camel.”
(The River Camel near Nanstallon)
Does that sound dreamy, or what?
I look forward to catching up with you in the comment section below, and then let’s read Days 5-9 this week so we can meet up here again next Monday!
I have really loved everything about this book so far. I feel like I’m on a journey with them! I loved David and Annie. I can see myself making up a big meal for two random cyclists the same way she did! One of the funniest things to me is when David wrapped the handlebars of Pinky and it almost caused Ben to have an accident. I laughed out loud thinking about how he had to weave in and out of traffic with that bike with the foam covered handle bars. I’m glad they could both laugh about it in the end.
I also loved that they got to meet Reg Savill. It was just the encouragement that they needed to keep on keeping on!
I do believe people are wired to want to help others. I think most of us want to genuinely be nice people. I do think sometimes we let fear get in our way of helping others. Not my circus not my monkeys kind of mentality even if we really do deep down want to be a helper. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay in our lane. I am personally trying to overcome that feeling. I would have to say I would give an “I’m officially a nice person card” to the Walmart worker I spoke to on the phone when the grocery panic buying was at its peak. My son can only have almond milk and it was in short supply. I called Walmart and asked if any almond milk had come in over night and if so, could they please just give me one container of it with my order. She told me that almond milk was very hard to come by because the companies had not made any more than usual so it went very fast. She told me she would personally write a note and keep it near her so that if some came in she would call me. Guess what! She had found ONE and I didn’t even know until I got home that it was in there. I cried. Over almond milk. It was just her blatant generosity that got me.
Aw. I would have cried too.
It totally made my week! ❤️
So fun to read your comment, Tasha!
And I agree, I think fear gets in the way a lot of the time, too. What a pesky emotion!! :-/
But what a treat to read about who would get your “I’m OFFICIALLY a VERY nice person!” card! 😀 It’s people like that gal that make the world go ’round and it’s especially nice to read about those kinds of things these days!
Yes I completely agree! She was definitely my hero that day! ❤️
Holly in Oregon
This book is delightful! I hate to travel, but love reading books about people who do! Thank you for the recommendation and the commentary that reflects my own.
I won’t over comment on the book since I was almost through by the time you started. However a I did want to make a comment about attitude. I had just finished a similar story of a couple doing a similar trail only walking. These young men expected nothing snd were willing to dig in for their needs plus both appeared or have such winning personalities. People were so receptive of them. In the book I previously mentioned, the woman in particular had a rather defensive attitude and as a result was not well received at all. We’re turned away as often as not. Just interesting how ones attitude affects others wanting to help.
Hello, Sandy! You’re so right about having a good attitude. Not only because it seems to make life easier/more enjoyable *personally*, but also because *others* tend to respond in a more positive way too. We always tell Steevenson, “It’s not about getting perfect grades or winning every game…the two most important things are to try your best and to always, always be kind.” I’m so glad George and Ben keep running into folks who seem to put kindness at the forefront too! 🙂
Oh, that’s such a great point Sandy. It’s all in our attitude, and how we treat others.
Hi Holly! So glad you’re joining us here this month! And what a treat to “travel” from the comfort of our own homes, eh? 😀
This is definitely a fun read. Thanks Layla for the photos of the places they’ve been…so fun to actually see them.
I would have to say that there are times I wonder if there is good at the core of all…but since we’re made in the image of God and he placed eternity in our hearts, it speaks to we at least all have the ability to long for good and to do good.
Yes and amen!
I loved searching for photos to include in this post, so I’m happy to hear you enjoyed those too!
And thank you for posting the reminder that we all have the ability to long for good and the ability to do good. It’s so true!
I just loved the premise of this book from the start. So dang delightful. One of my favourite parts so far was when Ben kept throwing the dog out of the barn only to have the little guy immediately return. And Ben’s reaction when they realize that the pup was actually tied up inside the barn! 🙂
People absolutely want to help others. I do find it intimidating to offer my help unless I see someone very obviously struggling or explicitly asking me for help. I agree with Tasha that the majority of people deep down want to be helpers. I’d give an “I’m OFFICIALLY a very NICE person” to a woman that saw me with my kids in a bookstore while my daughter was having a tantrum and offered to help me walk them out to my car, buy me a coffee, and then proceeded to give me the biggest hug when I completely broke down in the parking lot! (I totally love this idea of giving a card to nice people, even if just a mental note that someone was helpful, nice, made some wonderful difference to your day!)
Glyn and the White Hart Hotel was a great moment in the book. I think because the guys have run across so many generous people that Glyn actually making them work for their room stood out. They offered their services and she took them up on it! The whole giving them only squash for dinner was a bit BS but I’m glad Arek whipped up some pizza for them – though staying up all night, they had to work for that too, didn’t they?
Never visited England but am more and more interested in making a solid trip. Especially can’t wait for them to hit those Highlands!
Hi, Lindsay! So fun having you here!
And, oh my goodness, when George said the last time he saw someone run as fast as that little dog was in sixth-form, and went on to tell the rest of THAT story…I laughed out loud!!! 😀
I could’ve just hugged that gal that was kind to you in (and outside of) the bookstore too! What a VERY nice person!
I was thinking the same thing about Arek making them stay up all night. The introvert in me would have been EXHAUSTED in a completely different way than the stuff Glyn made them do did- LOL!
Oh! And I’m with you! I can hardly wait to read about the HIGHLANDS!!!!!!
I laughed so hard about the squash!! BAHAHAHAHA!! Thank goodness for pizza
By about day two of this book I was researching LEJOG and wondering if I myself could attempt it! (Not by bicycle however, either on foot or even by car). I think there are many of us who dream of doing big adventures and few of us who actually get down to our pants (quite literally in this case!) and GO! It makes me wonder what steps I could take to challenge my own perceptions of the world (my own world but also, The World).
Layla, thank you for starting this book club and recommending this book. It’s wonderful. My only problem was sticking to reading only Days 1-4. I wanted to know what happened next but also wanted to read along with the group! Moving on to Days 5-9 now. Thanks everyone for your comments. It’s so much fun to read as a group! Will they get better bikes? Will The Falcon make it to the end? 🙂
I agree, Amy! It *is* so much fun to read as a group! 😀
I keep wondering if they’ll get better bikes too, but MAN I have a soft spot for Pinky and The Falcon too- LOL!
Anita! 😀 I’m over here researching, researching, researching TOO! 😀
I love the last line of your comment:
“It makes me wonder what steps I could take to challenge my own perceptions of the world.”
What an incredible (and potentially life-enhancing!) thought to think about!
Thank you for posting that here!
I have absolutely enjoyed this book! I love to travel and I am grateful you posted pictures of the places they visited. I catch myself laughing aloud at some of the things and people they have encountered. I can picture my best friend and I doing something “crazy” like this. Also I love the idea of “I am officially a very nice person” card. I can’t wait to read the next “days”.
I’m so glad you’re enjoying it too, Pam! (And that you like the addition of the photos I found too!)
How fun that you have a friend that you can picture walking across a country with. Seems like those are hard to come by, but I’m grateful to have one, too!
I am still catching up on the reading, I got about halfway through chapter 3. I am really enjoying this light hearted read. The way George Mahood writes so funny to me. I literally laughed out loud in bed last night when he wrote, “‘Woweeeee,’ I said. Yes, I know people don’t say ‘Woweeeee’ anymore, but I did. It just slipped out in the moment. I’m not proud of it.” I could completely see myself saying something like that.
I was thinking about who I would give the postcard to, and I realized an odd thing– I really hate asking for help. I love to help other people, not because I am so nice, but because it makes ME feel good and useful. But I don’t often give others the opportunity to do the same for me. Hmmm…
Hey Kim! 😀
I’m loving George’s sense of humor too. What a fun guy!
And I know what you mean about not wanting to ask for help, but BOY was I grateful when one of our neighbors recently surprised us with a huge container of sanitizing wipes on our porch because she had an extra one and she knew we were out. I’d definitely give her an “I’m OFFICIALLY a VERY nice person!” card if I had one this week. 🙂
Thank you for recommending this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it! Sometimes, in days like we are experiencing now, we need to be reminded about the simpler things in life…enjoying the beauty of the travels and the generosity of strangers. This book brought a smile to my face every time I opened its pages. It will be given away for someone else to savor.
You’re so welcome, Beth! 🙂
“The beauty of the travels and the generosity of strangers”. What a warm little sentence that perfectly describes what we have read about so far in this book!
I was excited about reading this book! It’s hard to put down! I’m not sure if I could be so generous with my home like they were …and you know they had to look a little strange with their wardrobe…ha ha! Can you really ride a bike in boots 4 times to small?!!! Happy reading!!!!
My feet ached just READING about those too-small trainers, Beverly- LOL! 😀
I’m loving the book. I am a road cyclist so it’s an interesting read for a couple of reasons.
1. I would love to go on a several day road bike trip. Maybe in my future. Probably not 21 days though.
2. The thought of two people setting off on a 1,000 mile bike trip and they don’t bike and don’t own bikes or the basic equipment, like a bike, shoes and a helmet. Very intriguing. Nothing I would ever do or think to do. So fun to read why some one else would.
3. Travel through Scotland. I hear my ancestors calling.
4. So good to read about the good of our fellow human beings. I hope I would be so generous if presented the opportunity to help someone out in this capacity.
I am really enjoying this book! I probably would have never picked up this book on my own. It’s so fun to read something different. I have laughed out loud many times at the antics of these two guys on their road trip. I love to travel and would love to visit the places along their route!
Such a fun read! Their sense of humor, and easy going personalities go a long way in helping to land some food and shelter along the way. But I feel most people have a genuine desire to help others. Fun journey to be taking with these guys! Love the pictures included of those they’ve met along the way, so good to put a face with a name.
I listened on audible and the reader is absolutely fantabulous with all the right accents. I’m also an Anglophile and love the small villages and friendly people along the way. What a crazy couple of guys to undertake such a challenge but they pull it off in all the best ways. Enjoyable, funny and will they make it in 21 days without spending a cent?
Really enjoying this book. I hope I would have helped them on their way.
I wonder what Mr Badcock thought after reading the book! 😝. Loving the pics at the end of each chapter.
I hope I would’ve helped them on their way too, Louise. And I’m constantly wondering what the people in the book think of their parts too- LOL! 😀
I am love love loving this book so much! I was born in England and most of my extended family still lives there. But as I moved away when I was only 6, it is hard for me to recall a lot without the help of my parents. My great aunt lives in Cornwall and I remember going on holiday there.
There’s a lot of nostalgia that comes along with this book for me. From what they eat, to the description of the countryside. It’s a feel good book for me for sure!
The idea of living off the good will of others can be a scary and daring thing in our time but actually easier than we think when actually executed.
My husband was driving home from a work trip when we lived in New Mexico ten or so years ago. He pulled over at a local diner a few hours out and started chatting with this guy who was riding his motorcycle across country. We affectionately called him Ducati Dan, after his bike. We invited him for dinner and to stay in our guest bedroom for the night. And it was such an amazing experience all around.
I believe there are mostly good people in the world and this book is a great reminder of that.
Can’t wait to keep reading about their adventure!
Hi, Gabby! I’m so glad you’re loving the book too! And how fun that most of your extended family lives in England! Cornwall is calling my name.
Your Ducati Dan story made me smile- thank you for sharing it! 😀
The pictures you are adding are a beautiful touch to this club!
So much I could write, but the most LOL moment for me was the ‘marshmallow stuck to her face’. Makes me laugh anytime I think of it!! Also, when George writes about laughing uncontrollably, (about the fast dog) I thought of you and I. We need another one of those moments : )
Wonderful read for these crazy times. THANK YOU!
SO happy to hear the book is making you smile/laugh too! I’d sure love to travel across England with you! (With proper shoes and bikes, of course.) 😉
Every since I can remember I have always wanted to travel to England, to the old parts, the remote parts….maybe not on a bike. I always thought of doing it on a train or in a car. But, this just makes me love Ben and George more for their sense of adventure and in seeking out the goodness of people. Being born and grown southern I pride myself on my hospitality and I am so glad to see people opening up their homes and giving of themselves to two perfect strangers. I love that after each day there are pictures of the people that have helped them that day. It just adds another dimension to this book to be able to put a face with a name! Happy reading!
I love their sense of adventure too, Veronica! I couldn’t remember what the popular acronym “YOLO” stood for the other day so I asked Siri what it meant. “You Only Live Once”, she said. Made me think of Ben and George and their trip of a lifetime. 🙂
And I agree. The pictures at the end of each day are the perfect finishing touch!
I loved this book so much! I loved the adventure of it all. The generosity of the people they met and the stories they told, something that never would have happened if they had done this trip fully outfitted. I loved this adventure so much I have ordered 2 more of his books.
Oh, how fun Lynda! I’ll have to check out his other books too!
My husband and I are both reading this book together! We both laughed out loud when George described his borrowed clothes – “The trousers hung halfway down my arse, and stopped halfway up my shin.” What a visual!
My daughter and son-n-law lived in Oxford, England for two years while he studied there. I was lucky enough to
have visited three times!! My first grandson was actually born there and was named Oliver in honor of their
time there. If you ever get to visit London, do a day trip to Oxford (The City of Spires) it is so beautiful and full of inspiration. Buildings dating back to the 1200’s!! Wrap your brain around that! I would love to go back and visit the country side that Ben and George are describing. One of my favorite scenes is when Ben is trying to throw the dog out of the barn! Amen to the proof that there are kind people in the world!
Welcome to the club…so fun to hear your husband is part of it too! 😀
And how neat that your daughter and son-in-law got the chance to live in England for a couple of years…and that you got to visit them there too. Thanks for the tip about visiting Oxford. I can’t imagine how many goosebumps I’d be covered in just standing in front of all of that old architecture! 1200s…WOW!
Sorry about making comments a day late. I have loved the book and the comments already made. My only additions are: how utterly humbling it is on their part to begin the journey knowing they would have to ask strangers for assistance and possibly be looked upon as odd. Note Ben’s assumption, based on the previous two days, that he would be granted a new bottle of water just because he asked. And lastly, George is married?
No worries, Cherie! We’re open for comments all week! 😀
It *was* interesting to see how quickly Ben assumed someone would give him a bottle of water, and I didn’t know George was married, but he seems like a fun guy, so that makes sense! 🙂
I am loving this book! I have laughed out loud so many times! I have longed to travel to Britain and after reading this book… even more so! One of my favorite parts was on Day 3 when they were staying with Annie and Ben and she went to their neighbor’s house and got some socks for them. I have to say… I’ve cheated and kept reading. I just can’t stop! Thank you for this, Layla, it is just what I need to read right now!
Yes! That part where Annie went to a neighbor’s house to get socks was so CUTE! 😀
I’m a tad late, but loved all the comments. I am an Anglophile, so this book was a must.
Looking forward to next Monday!!
I’m a wee bit late to comment but enjoying this book and the conversation with y’all! What a great and fun book to read! I’ve laughed a lot and caught myself of pretending I’m there in the beautiful countryside:)
I literally just started this book…still on day one so I haven’t read too many comments because I don’t want to get ahead, but I am enjoying it and glad I purchased it. I’m excited to catch up (my hope is to catch up to where you all are by next Monday. It’s just a fun read, and while I love going places, I’m not sure I could be as brave as they are. I needed this light hearted read that makes me chuckle frequently.
Thanks for this book Layla. I had so much fun reading it. I couldn’t stop so I kept reading and have finished it. I love the excerpts you selected and the pictures to go with it.
These travel books are so much fun. I feel like George really gives a flavor of the area, and I hope to visit sometime.
But, did it bother anyone else that they seem to be taking advantage of generous people? I have to keep reminding myself that this book was written a few years ago because reading it now in this pandemic caused economic awfulness it seems in poor spirit. I think I would have enjoyed it more if they had set a budget and paid for things, or if I had read it last year.
Hi Tiffany! So glad you enjoyed reading it, and thanks for not sharing any spoilers- ha! 😀
And to answer your question: I haven’t felt like George and Ben have “taken advantage of generous people” because they always start their inquiries by asking if they can do any work in exchange for whatever it is they’re requesting. Most of which isn’t extravagant. Food that’s being tossed out, old clothes that don’t fit, a floor to sleep on, etc. And since the (penniless) adventure is centered around the idea that by traveling without money and provisions, the guys would have to rely on humanity, generosity, and kinship to get them through- I think of it more like a harmless and interesting experiment, not a journey made in “poor spirit”. If they had set a budget and paid for things, they wouldn’t have been able to share proof of Ben’s (strong) belief that: “there is a lot of good to be found in society and that there lies within everyone the desire to help others.” and this book wouldn’t exist.
Just my two cents. Thanks for encouraging me to pound them out! 😀
I just finally finished day 4 this afternoon. It’s a bit of a fast pace to get through that many chapters since I can only read in bed at night and only until I drop off. But it’s so funny, I’m really enjoying it.
Thinking about helping. I think aside from fear, another reason can just be how easy it is to get hyper focused on our own lives and busyness. I think that’s how it is for me anyway. It takes something almost dropped in my lap for me to “look up” but am so happy to help when given the chance.
Tranny witch and the not-so-there butcher worker in Camelford! I’m late to the club, even though I’ve had my book from the first day you announced book club. But, as i have a long weekend ahead, I’m so excited to read! What I find more interesting is the dynamic between Ben and George. Ben seems to have some social and emotional issues, and I’m intrigued by George’s composure with him. Granted this is written by Georges point of view, but I have a 10 year old son with issues of the same sort and as I read about their interplay, I keep thinking about my boy and how one day I wish he finds a friend like George. I’ll be interested to see how the relationship is once they arrive in John O’Groats.
Hiya! I’m late to the club but thoroughly enjoying the book. Belly laughs! Sharing shoes…SO much cutlery…”speedboat” excursion…I could go on and on. Very clever writing. I am looking forward to seeing how this plays out and how it affects their friendship. Very nice to see the photos of the officially nice people. I have had the good fortune to visit England three times…this makes me yearn to go back.
PS – squash is a beverage – a bit like lemonade…not a vegetable 🙂 This was quite confusing for me, too, when asked if I would like some squash after being picked up Heathrow.