Troubador Surface Male

Released: 03/03/2012

ISBN: 9781848767928

Format: Hardback

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Surface Male

Round the World Without Flying


This light-hearted travel memoir poses a serious question: in a world alarmed by climate change, how easy is it to go long distances without relying on fuel-guzzling aeroplanes?

Surface Male is the true story of John Barclay’s challenge to travel around the world, doing as much as possible by land and none at all by air. In a journey that took half a year, crossing three oceans, four continents and 23 countries – by passenger liner, container ship, freighter, motorboat, train, bus, tram, trolleybus, minibus, truck, motorcar, taxi, tuk tuk, motorbike and on foot – not a drop of aviation fuel was consumed.

Journeying on his own (and off the tourist track), without the benefit of pre-planning, he faced numerous difficulties and dangers. Equipped with little more than his own dogged nature and zest for adventure, John soldiered on, frustrated by language, confused, lost and molested – often the only European to be seen. Yet he found humour everywhere and was heartened by the warmth of strangers. The experience changed his outlook on the world. The story includes amazing scenes such as a hot night in a low dive in Mexico, the terror of a no-go area in Panama, a death-defying bus ride in Vietnam and John’s escape from the authorities in Kazakhstan. He tells it all candidly, with wit and humanity, in a crisp style that holds the attention for 32,000 miles. The fascinating photographs are the author’s own.

John gives an entertaining and popular talk about his travels, illustrated with photographs and extracts from 'Surface Male' - tel 01929 554959 or see website below.
In 2005 he brought out a collection of poems under the title 'The Blood of Others'.

On the 15th March, in Wareham Parish Hall, 65 people sipped champagne and tucked into freshly prepared canapes from the Salt Pig restaurant as they studied a display of maps, flags, John Barclay's notebooks, his much-stamped passport, photographs and book reviews - all showing aspects of his journey around the world without flying.
John took the stage to welcome everyone to the 'celebration' and he thanked them for their help and support. He spoke briefly about his travels, reading short extracts from 'Surface Male'. One of these described the shock of stumbling upon street children asleep on the pavement in San Salvador. John took questions and then a presentation to him of a giant inflated globe, by fellow entertainer Mike Cawson, developed into an elaborate comedy routine as the two struggled to shake hands without letting go of the world. A procession through the hall was led by a euphonium player from the Town Band, followed by two men in bowler hats bearing copies of the new book, with John re-appearing on the end of the line.
38 copies of the book were sold and even more were signed. The event raised £140 for the British charity 'Toybox', which works with street children in El Salvador and other Latin-American countries.

Dorset Humanist Society

Swanage & Wareham Advertiser

Essential Travel

The Bookseller

As a 'world-traveler', although in much less adventurous circumstances, I wondered how it was possible to convey in writing to others the extra-ordinary experiences of such a voyage. John Barclay manages this challenging feat with aplomb;in so doing, his story and, more importantly how he tells it, not only has great appeal to travelers, but also to a much wider audience. The fascinating and instructive attention to detail, the acute powers of observation, the humor, the dialogue, the evident writing skills, all of these and more combine to make this story so much more than simply 'yet another travel book'. As a reader, you are drawn to this sometimes hapless, sometimes fortunate traveler; his fragility, his courage, his determination to prevail. You want and urge him to succeed in his quest. You know that any moment, he might not. You too want to meet the next people he encounters, 'friends' or perhaps less so? You too want to discover the next destination for a keen insight into a country or place and people you may well not know, will it be favorable, or otherwise?
The anti-aviation case is made the stronger by not simply repeating too many of the well known arguments, but by extolling the challenges and rewards which lie in the alternatives.
John Barclay makes all these points, and offers a good deal more, in a highly entertaining and interesting book.

by Toby Hazan

Have you ever been tempted to chuck it all in and go off with friends round the world? After university? Or even when in the middle of a boring job? Well, John Barclay did it alone with no mobile 'phone and at sixty four years of age in early retirement but with a difference; he used no planes but just ships, trains and buses. To start with, he went on a transatlantic liner where he was pampered. It took four waiters to serve his fruit juice at breakfast - or not: one to place the glass by him; one to turn it upright; one to pour the juice; and one to remove the glass if he declined this ludicrous service.

Having thus mocked this form of travel, he then goes on local buses from Florida through the Southern States, into several countries of Central America before joining a freight ship in Panama to cross the Pacific to New Zealand. I will stop there to let you read John Barclay's Surface Male onward through Australasia into China and then across Asia to Europe. What an exhausting and inspiring journey, for someone with hearing problems, involving frantic searches for ATMs, internet cafes, let alone train platforms in the dark when there are no notices or station staff. His style brings an immediacy to the tale.

Gradually you get to know this remarkable man while he perseveres in his remarkable odyssey. It becomes compulsive reading. He candidly reveals his angsts. You suffer his fears and revel in his triumphs along with him. He has a wonderfully dry sense of humour as he mocks himself, people, and indeed the modern materialistic world. Be careful where you read it as you are likely to laugh aloud.

My comments might tempt you to try the journey yourself, or instead you might just book yourself a self-indulgent weekend in a gastronomic pub in the country and settle down to read Surface Male.

by Richard Wood

"Surface Male" is more than a travelogue. The author, John Barclay, readily admits that approaching pensionable age, small in stature, a severe hearing problem and myopic are probably not the best assets to acomplish his journey around the world without sullying his carbon boot-print by aviation fuel, describing the idea as foolhardy at best and sheer madness at worst.

However, John, anxious by nature, intrepid in spirit and resolute in intention, despite incompetency in at least nine of the languages he would have found particularly useful for the passages on ships, trains and local buses, not to mention bureaucracy, hotels and restaurants plus a talent for losing various items at different destination, managed to come through the experience relatively unscathed.

If you are expecting detailed, descriptive passages of prose on the countries he passed through, there are other books for that. This is a journey made up of many pathways, of a different genre. For a man whose anxieties include catching life threatening diseases, a very real fear of being relieved of his possessions or being left for dead in some far flung foreign outpost, he has a gritty determination for self preservation. This might take the form of a requirement for sustenance, solvency or somewhere to lay his head.

He writes with a wry wit, self deprecation and detailed observation. In San Salvador he notes "the women didn't laugh but smiled loudly.."
There are the occasional polemics but they are balanced by more gentle encounters. For those looking for romance in this tale, they will be unlucky, but I do think John missed a trick with "fit Dolores"!

Barcaly should feel justifiably proud of his achievements which were hindered by many trials and tribulations, many of which were exacerbated by his lack of language skills together with some brushes with the seamier side of life.

John Barclay's odyssey, I concluded, was not so much about travel but about proving that at a time of life when many turn to gardening and golf, it is never too late to challenge, confront, learn and grow. I felt travel was the tool he used to complete that journey.

by Sue Daubeny

Surface Male – is just what it says it is on the tin. A male i.e. John Barclay, on the surface of the world or, to be precise, travelling the surface in order to circumnavigate the globe without sitting in a tin can, hurtling through the sky at unmentionable speeds and thereby adding megatonnes to his carbon footprint.
This is travel on a human scale; staying overnight –or nights – on spec, connecting with all kinds of people and cultures with and without a common language.
John set out with a ticket for the QM2 and sailed in some style across the Atlantic. ‘Just the ticket’, in fact, for some relaxation – and possibly wondering what on earth he was about to do – before embarking on the adventure of a lifetime.
No tour guide or package deal for our intrepid traveller whose ‘gap year’ – well strictly speaking it took 6 months - was taken post-retirement rather than post-university ; a brave deal for anyone of any age.
This book is an account of John’s travels, alone and without a mobile phone, so only the occasional connection back to base would be from the mostly rare internet café. There are adventures galore, from fighting off the ubiquitous taxi drivers whose vehicles ranged from cars to tuk tuks to small motorbikes (wonderful images of John riding pillion on one of these and hanging on for dear life)to colourful bus journeys with not even a nod to health and safety. Searching innocently in dodgy no-go areas for hotels or at least for a bed for the night. Where in one of these less salubrious places he suffered the shock and indignity of being mugged. And there was clambering up a long and vertical ladder on the side of a ship from a precarious position on a small boat in a heaving sea, before making the next leg of his journey.
The reader is with him all the way from detailed descriptions of surroundings and people that come alive, to the angst he felt when out of funds and on a wild goose chase to track down a friendly but elusive ATM. There is the race back and forth across one country in order to secure the correct visa for entering the next - and just to make it exciting, it had to be done in the nick of time before the visa for the former ran out.
How he deals with the heat, the sometimes unidentifiable food and the challenges which have spectacular results – such as climbing the Rialto Observation Tower in Melbourne, then stepping out onto the frail looking balcony at 55 storeys high! He’s afraid of heights…..
John’s observations of the people he met, the vast majority of whom bestowed kindness and friendliness, give a wonderful insight into other cultures.
This book is a must both for the seasoned traveller who will identify with so much, and for the armchair traveller who will gain a sense of adventure whilst safe in the knowledge that he is on home territory with all mod cons.

by Susannah Brown

John Barclay

A former speechwriter for Marks and Spencer plc, John is a performance poet and entertainer living in Purbeck, Dorset, where he is known for a light-hearted column in a local newspaper, his appearances in the annual variety show and presenting 'Poetry a la Carte' in which the audience chooses the poems.

John Barclay

In Mexico, with a moustache I'd grown to look like a native
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