Born from an expedition culture where it has become important to be the first, fastest and all-out hardest, My Midsummer Morning offers something completely different. Initially, this is because the type of adventure is new for Alastair Humphreys. For a man who has cycled around the globe, rowed the Atlantic and pack-rafted the Arctic, My Midsummer Morning takes a more pedestrian route, following in the footsteps of Laurie Lee, author of Cider with Rosie, who in a lesser-known memoir, busked through Spain with his violin. The problem here is that Humphreys can’t play the violin.
His book tackles these first performing moments relatively lightly, though keeping the awkwardness and anxiety that comes with being a beginner. It soon becomes clear, however, that being bad at the violin is a cipher for something bigger. The chronology jumps back and forth, giving us unexpected glimpses of his life before leaving for Spain, the points of conflict with his wife Sarah and a brewing identity crisis. In a series of admissions, the book shows a restless and competitive person trying to settle down. It becomes startlingly honest. ‘Though I would leap heroically in front of a train for my children, I struggled to make the less glamorous daily sacrifices that the roundabout of parenting demanded,’ he says, later admitting that: ‘I wanted someone to blame and that was invariably Sarah.’
Indirectly, his story also gives a rare look at the pressures of the outdoor adventure world. Humphreys admits, ‘I was beguiled by the macho lure that bigger is better, that expeditions were a way of sorting the strong from the weak.’ With such an outlook, problems begin when expeditions finish. Recalling a motivational speech about his adventures in the US, he says: ‘I hated dredging up my old tales, telling audiences about my glory days. I cried all the way there and back.’ For a field so romanticised, his admissions are refreshing.
Alone in the rural villages of Galicea, Humphreys sifts through these thoughts and tries to learn to live with himself. Through not his physically toughest expedition, My Midsummer Morning is probably his bravest. It hits much closer to home.
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