Long Way Down by Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman

Long Way Down by Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman

Autobiography Book Review

Title: Long Way Down
Authors: Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman
Publisher: Sphere
Released: 2007
Pages: 352
ISBN-10: 1847440525
ISBN-13: 978-1847440525
Stars: 4.5

I’ve been a big fan of Scottish actor Ewan McGregor since first seeing him in the movie Shallow Grave in 1995 and discovered his best mate Charley Boorman, son of English film director John Boorman, in the movie he made with Ewan (where they first met) called The Serpent’s Kiss (1997). Of course, I didn’t know that the two men were best friends until I saw their television documentary series about their first motorcycle journey around the world together called Long Way Round on DVD. Being a motorcycle (although I admit I don’t ride but would like to learn) and travel lover, I was very excited by their 20,000-mile trip from London, England, to New York City via Europe, Siberia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Alaska and Canada and became absolutely enchanted with the obvious love, humour, respect and camaraderie between these two incredibly gifted, spirited and adventurous motorcycle enthusiasts and UNICEF ambassadors.

When I heard that Charley and Ewan were going to film a second television series called Long Way Down about their almost 15,000-mile ride on May 12, 2007, from John O’Groat’s, Scotland, to Cape Town, South Africa (in 85 days), I couldn’t wait to see it! It aired on the National Geographic channel earlier this year, and sadly I don’t get the channel, so I had to wait until I could get the DVD which I now have. I still can’t wait to see it because this time, I decided to read the book Long Way Down first and then watch the DVD.

The book (and DVD), available through Amazon, is a very well-written, extremely interesting and enthusiastic travel journal with Charley and Ewan taking turns sharing their impressions of and emotions about the various places they visited on their trip, including France, Italy, Sicily, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia (Ewan’s personal favourite), Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. It also has 48 pages of beautiful colour photos which document many important moments along the way, including their stop at the ancient city of Leptis Magna in Libya, the great pyramids in Alexandria, Egypt, meeting an Ethiopian man named Teslu who lost his leg when he stepped on a mine buried on his doorstep, reaching the Tropic of Capricorn and Ewan meeting a baby rhino named Lola.

We discover that Ewan is an animal lover who would love to have his own wildlife sanctuary, but he doesn’t care for riding through sand, and Charley, the stronger bike rider of the two (he rode the Dakar, don’t you know!), popped a wheelie at the border crossing into every new country they entered. Ewan’s wife Eve joined them in Malawi to ride with them for a week, much to Ewan’s delight, and Charley’s wife Ollie and his daughters Doone and Kinvara, met them at the finish line in Cape Town, along with Ewan’s parents and brother Colin. We also learn about their favourite charities and some of the people assisted by them who touched their hearts as they stopped to visit and raise awareness for them along the way, including the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland, Riders For Health and UNICEF.

An excerpt from the final chapter, A Motorcycle Diary, courtesy of Charley:

CHARLEY: On the outskirts we pulled over and draped the Scottish flag Ewan’s nephew had given us across the back of Ewan’s bike. I could hear him singing ‘O Flower of Scotland’ and then we were on the last leg, cruising through the streets to the Arabella Sheraton. I thought about a final wheelie but strangely perhaps I was more reflective. The enormity of what we’d been able to achieve began to sweep over me, brought home I think by the little bit of gravel we’d ridden to get to the very tip of the continent at Cape Agulhas. I was suddenly humbled, a little bit of dirt where we stood on the pegs and stuck our elbows out. I thought of the Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, I thought of Zambia, Tanzania: all those gnarly, muddy, sandy, potholed roads. It occurred to me that ten years from now, five even, those roads would be gone, buried for all time under tarmac. The Africa Ewan and I had ridden through would be changed forever.

I defy anyone who loves travel, motorcycles and adventure not to utterly love this book, as well as the television series, and if you haven’t already fallen in love with the beautiful souls that are Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, you will! There are rumours of a possible Long Way Up series which their fans will wait for with anticipation, and in the meantime, Charley has already filmed the hit BBC show By Any Means, in which he travels by various modes of transport from Wicklow, Ireland to Sydney, Australia. Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor have changed the face of television travel documentaries forever!

Billy by Pamela Stephenson

Billy by Pamela Stephenson

Biography Book Review

Title: Billy
Author:  Pamela Stephenson
Publisher: UK General Books
Released: August 15, 2002
Pages: 304
ISBN 10 – 0007110928
ISBN 13 – 978-0007665457
Stars:  3.0

As a big fan of the genius that is Billy Connolly, I have been wanting to read his 2001 biography simply titled Billy, written by his wife, Pamela Stephenson, for a long time, and I finally got around to it.

Glasgow, Scotland’s Billy Connolly, born November 24, 1942, is one of the most famous comedians in the world and, in my humble opinion, the funniest. I saw his live stand-up show for his Erect for 30 Years tour in Toronto in 2000, and I laughed so hard I thought I had burst a blood vessel in my head and, at the end of it, left with a massive headache. No one has ever made me laugh as hard. Connolly is also a very talented, accomplished and acclaimed actor who was the star of the sitcoms Head of the Class and Billy; was nominated for a BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild Award and Golden Globe for his portrayal of John Brown in the film Mrs. Brown; and has appeared in such movies as The Boondock Saints, Still Crazy, An Everlasting Piece, The Last Samurai and The Man Who Sued God to name just a few. In 2003, Billy won a Life Time Achievement BAFTA, and he most recently appeared in The X-Files: I Want To Believe.

Billy, a.k.a. The Big Yin, had a torturous childhood in which he was abandoned by his mother and raised by his father, who sexually molested him (between the ages of ten and sixteen) and two aunts, one of whom had a severe personality disorder and was sadistic and cruel to him (she later ended up in a psychiatric hospital) and his sister Florence. He began working in his late teens as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, spent a couple years in The Territorial Army Reserve with The Parachute Regiment, and in his twenties, decided that he wanted to be “windswept and interesting” and, above all, a tramp. Fascinated by the sound of the banjo, he started playing it and, not long after, was getting gigs as a folk singer with his friend Tam Harvey. Together they formed The Humblebums, but after recording one album, Harvey was replaced by Gerry Rafferty. It was during those years that Billy began to develop his comic routines while on stage with Rafferty.

What came next, over a thirty-year period, was no less than world domination as a comedian for this innately, furiously funny man. “His observational comedy is idiosyncratic and often off-the-cuff. He talks about himself, who he is, where he’s been, what he thinks and how he reacts to the world around him. He has outraged certain sectors of audiences, critics and the media with his free use of the word “fuck.” He has used masturbation, blasphemy, defecation, flatulence, hemorrhoids, sex, his father’s illness and his aunts’ cruelty to entertain. By exploring these subjects with humour, Connolly has done much to strip away the taboos surrounding them. Yet he does not tell jokes in the conventional way.”

Connolly’s rags to excess riches story is a fascinating one, but I was somewhat disappointed in Billy as so much of the book focuses on his early life, and his career as an actor was simply skimmed over very quickly. Pamela Stephenson morphed back and forth throughout the book from the present (2001) to the past, and I felt that she was holding back from disclosing anything really personal about her life with Billy and their five children (the two eldest, Jamie and Cara are from Billy’s first marriage to Iris Pressagh). She disclosed a few fun tidbits about his escapades with some of his famous rock star and actor friends while he was still drinking heavily—he quit in 1985—but never went into much detail. For someone who has been married to the man for almost twenty years and with him for longer than that, Pamela’s description of Billy as a man, friend, husband, father, comedian and actor comes off as being somewhat clinical and lacks any real passion or convincing emotion. The snippets from Billy’s journals that she quotes from are extremely tame and don’t reveal much about what he was really feeling at the time, nor include the year of the entry date. This is, in fact, a beige, one-sided account of his life and would have been much more interesting if some of his closest friends had been interviewed for the book. That being said, Pamela wrote a follow-up called Bravemouth about Billy in 2003, and I now want to read it as well to get the rest of the story.

Stephenson, a.k.a. Pamela H. Connolly, Ph.D., once a comedian/actress herself who is most recognized for her work on the BBC comedy series, Not the Nine O’Clock News, is now a practicing psychotherapist (which would account for her detached writing style). She analyzes Billy’s character like this:

“A highly combustible mixture has been bubbling away inside Billy his whole life. A huge dose of abandonment pain, a dollop of existential fury, a giant scoop of performing talent, plus a massive portion of hell-bent-on-vengefulness has whirled around inside him since infancy,” catapulting him from tenement to ‘tinsel town’ in five extraordinary decades. It is the kind of volatile compound that could have exploded at any time, and it is the containment and alchemy of those elements that constitutes his most admirable work.”

This is an interesting book for Connolly fans (I didn’t know he had his nipples pierced in his fifties!), and you will learn what Pamela believes makes Billy tick, but it’s not a definitive biography, and if you read Billy’s Desiderata in the Epilogue, you’ll get almost as much out of those two pages as in the 381 pages preceding them.

For those of you who would like to discover some of Billy’s finest work, I highly recommend the video Billy and Albert: Billy Connolly at The Royal Albert Hall (1987), Billy Connolly Live in New York (2006) and all of the movies I mentioned above, as well as a trip to his official website at billyconnolly.com.

Flirting with Forty: Elegantly Written, Honest Mom Lit by Jane Porter

Flirting with Forty

Romance Fiction Novel

Title: Flirting with Forty
Author:  Jane Porter
Publisher: 5 Spot (Hachette Book Group)
Released: July 13, 2006
Pages: 368
Stars: 3.5

Flirting with Forty by Jane Porter is an elegantly written, thoughtful, honest novel and excellent Mom Lit reading.

I am forty-four, single and childless, and cannot personally relate much to the main characters, all married or divorced, with children, and living within an extremely comfortable income tax bracket, not wanting anything but love and attention. However, I can agree with the main character, Jacqueline’s statement,

“Because honestly, I’ve lived long enough to know we don’t always get what we deserve. We don’t always get the good we should.” As well as, “I am still, at forty, too romantic, too emotional, too sensitive, too intense.”

That’s very true of me and my experience. Jacqueline, of course, does get the good she should in the end, and her life, and Jane Porter’s, might surprise her occasionally with challenges, but for the most part, they are incredibly blessed, beautiful women who lead charmed lives. It’s hard not to be envious of them.

Perhaps the lesson here is that we can all lead charmed lives if we take risks and believe that we deserve to have what we want and never settle for less. But how many of us get to have the gorgeous, younger, six-pack-toting surf instructor boyfriend who makes us feel sexy? Ah-ha, that’s what I thought. That being said, I’m looking forward to reading more of Jane Porter’s books.

Flirting with Forty was made into a television movie starring Heather Locklear and Robert Buckley and aired on the Lifetime channel on Saturday, December 6, 2008. Entertainment Weekly reviewed it very favourably too.

For all things, Jane Porter (and you should get to know her because she’s a really lovely lady!), go to her official website.

At A Loss For Words by Diane Schoemperlen

At A Loss For Words by Diane Schoemperlen

Romance Fiction Book Review

Title: At A Loss For Words
Author:  Diane Schoemperlen
Publisher: Phyllis Bruce Books
Released: January 17, 2008
Pages: 160
ISBN 10 – 0002008815
ISBN 13 – 978-0002008815
Stars:  3.5

I wrote this review for HarperCollins early this year.

As a single, forty-something female, it’s frightening how much I relate to fellow Kingstonian Diane Schoemperlen’s excellent new novel (January 2008), At A Loss For Words (A Post-Romantic Novel). I could swear this is a work of nonfiction, allowing readers a peak into Schoemperlen’s real life because it’s so full of truth. I figure that if I am deeply moved by it because of having had such a similar experience in dealing with a long-distance relationship with a man who very quickly into our getting to know each other (after we had slept together, of course) suddenly became so busy and had so many excuses as to why he wasn’t calling, emailing or driving the two hours east to see me, then I’m sure there are many women out there who feel the same way.

This is a wonderful, well-written, humourous book about the desperate nature of human relationships and how we all question our sanity when we’re in love. Diane has managed to write just about everything that I felt about my most recent relationship (and others), although I’m sure I wasn’t quite as obsessive about writing to him as her unnamed character is! It was smart to write the characters without names because the reader can insert whatever name she or he wants, and suddenly, the story could be theirs. Remarkably, I even had the same Mr. Wonderful doll that my best friend gave me. However, after ending the relationship—because I found out that I wasn’t the only woman he was dating, but in fact, he was sleeping with at least three other women at the same time, which shed a bright light on his many excuses: why he was tired so often, couldn’t find the time to spend an entire day with me and was a pretty lousy lay—I threw out Mr. Wonderful because I realized that he doesn’t exist.

All men lie to the women in their lives. All of them. And we lie to them too. Diane knows that and has managed to maintain a sense of humour about the sad truth of it all. The way in which she writes about ideas to cure writer’s block and her use of references to horoscopes, websites and music all add to the contemporary realism of this story.

I will recommend this book to every woman that I know who is out there dating or thinking about it! How the human race manages to evolve, I do not know. Diane, call me! I’m sure we could talk!