Fr. Matthew Cashmore

Priest in the Church of England. Trustee SPCK. Father, husband, son. "Small acts of Good change the world."

Tag: review

Tortillas to Totems

Tortillas to Totems Cover

Tortillas to Totems by Sam Minicom

I’ve been reading Sam’s books for quite a few years now. First there was Into Africa – a journey through the heart of, you guessed it, Africa, by a man who had only just figured out what a motorbike was for (travel of course). Next up was Under Asian Skies which took us right across Asia with Sam and the people he met along the way. The next book out of the already quite impressive stable was Distant Suns which was based on the diaries of Sam’s partner and travel buddy Birgit Schuenemann. Finally we have his latest book – Tortillas to Totems– and what a corker it is.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I don’t often write book reviews. Not because I don’t devour every single adventure motorcycle book out there – but because for the most part… um… they’re not very good. I’ve made some exceptions to that rule – first with Lois Pryce and her book – Red Tape and White Knuckles and eventually I will for Paddy Tyson and his books – but the stand-out daddy of them all is Sam Manicom.

Tortillas to Totems is easily Sam’s best book so far. The writing style is engaging and steady – that horribly addictive style that leaves you realising you’ve been reading for 10 hours straight and just can’t put the book down. The stories he tells don’t just transport you there – they encourage you to get on your bike and ride. For me – that’s the best thing a travel book can do. If you only want to read one of Sam’s books – start with this one, then head back to Into Africa and read the rest – just be prepared to leave a few days clear before you start!

You can buy Sam’s book over at amazon.co.uk (where you can also find his books in kindle format) and also learn more about Sam and his adventures over at his website.

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Red Tape and White Knuckles by Lois Pryce – Review

Every now and again a book comes out of the blue that you end up devouring in hours – Lois Pryce’s latest, Red Tape and White Knuckles, is one of those.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Lois in London not long before I headed out to Australia, I already knew of her first book, Lois on the Loose, and it was amazing to tie the experiences I’d read about in the book to the real person, and for once, they where the same person. With the exception of Austin Vince and Ted Simon I’ve nearly always been disappointed when I’ve met the authors of books I’ve held dear.

This second book has demonstrated a maturity in her writing style that held the whole thing together with a constant narrative – a very difficult trick to pull off. So much so that it’s one of those rare breed of books that you simply can’t put down. I hadn’t noticed that Lois had a new book out until I happened across it in the Sydney Airport book store, I was about to board a 14 hour flight to San Francisco and was rather excited to see something I could devour and learn from, rather than endure the constant repeats of How I Met Your Mother I knew United would be serving.

From the first page, through to the photos and the last chapter it’s a journey of personal strength, determination and at times, heart pounding excitement and fear. I really felt I was with her, and that’s an exceptionally difficult thing to pull off as the mass of bad travel books demonstrate.

I was a little concerned that this would be a book about a small, timid (ha!) white girl working hard against all possible odds to get through Africa – but it’s not, it’s a book about a small, lion-hearted lady who overcame obstacles with good humor, humility and a depth of character I’d be proud to even have a tenth of.

If you’re planning your own journey on anything from a motocycle to a tuk tuk, this book will inspire you to go that little bit further, and perhaps push a little of your fear to one side and experience a journey for what it is, rather than a philosophical adventure or backed-up outing.

Red Tape and White Knuckles is available from the Sydney Airport Book Store or from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

UPDATE:

Thanks to Atlas Rider on Twitter here’s a video of Lois talking about her journey at an overland expo in the states.

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Asus – a couple of months of ownership

I’ve had the Eee PC (701) now for a few months and have been using it as my primary machine whilst away and my secondary machine at home.

I must admit I’ve had a few issues with it. I’ve had to return it to factory defaults (keep hitting F9 at start up) about 5 times, all down to the fact that I got irritated by the basic set up and tried to install new and wonderful applications and advanced user interfaces. Fortunately all my files and documents are kept on the 8gb SD card slapped in the side, so I didn’t lose anything, but the re-install and then update of the system takes an hour or two – it can quite happily be done on the road – but if you want the updates you need a pretty hefty Internet Connection. I did manage to do it in Starbucks whilst away but it cost me about 20 GBP in coffee to sit there for two hours!

This has actually given me confidence in the kit, unlike most other laptop software setups, if it dies, you can just hammer F9 until it takes it back to the simple set up it came with out of the box – and to be frank – that’s enough to email, blog, skype, sort out my photos etc.

However, there is no way this machine can be used as your primary set up, I’ve had no luck sourcing a decent / simple video editor that has worked consistently, at least, no editor that can pull the DV files off my camcorder as they’re downloaded and then allow me to edit them (using MiniDV). You can combine about three bits of software to do this, but none of them are very good and you will end up getting very frustrated. The simple solution to this is to install Ubuntu and run a better application – combine this with buying a new SD based camcorder and you’d be laughing – of course – you’d need a little bigger internal memory too – the 4gb is quite limiting – even if you are just using it for the system and no actual file storage.

I’ve now had a good play with the new 900 units with a 20gb internal drive – much easier to install new apps and OS – the screen is much better, and it’s just more flexible all round. But at over 350gbp it’s into the territory of other probably better ultra light laptops, and frankly, whilst I can almost afford to lose 200gbp if the asus doesn’t stand up to the journey – 350gbp is somehow, more difficult.

If you accept it’s limitations in order to have a fantastically small, light, bomb proof machine; it’s worth it’s weight in gold. If you desperately need video editing, or advanced photo editing, it’s probably not for you, and perhaps you should have a look at the myriad of new ultra portables (for a little more cash) coming out of everyone from Apple to Dell.

There’s a good round up of the products available over at CNET

it’s a little out of date now and there are many more on the market – but it’s a good place to start.

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PocketComms

PocketComms Fanned out with pouchNo speaky….

Not a video review this time, unusual for us I know, however I’ve just got hold of a really nice piece of kit that may well prove more valuable than mine and Matt’s (failed) Russian language (Svetlana please forgive us….) course we had planned to do for the trip – I finished having trouble speaking English let alone Russian.

It was a gift ‘to help you on your trip’ said the voice. It was a small pouch with a belt loop – a bit like an ammo pouch. Guns – I hope not? I dread to think where they think we’re going. Anyway looking at the pouch I wondered what it contained fearing the worst but I was pleasantly surprised…

It contained a small book, hinged in one corner. Between the covers were a number of pages of plastic paper featuring lots of little cartoon pictures of everyday and not so everyday things and events. It’s called a Pocket Comms book and the neat little hinge allows the pages to be fanned out to see many pictures at once. It’s been developed by an ex-army intelligence guy who came up with the idea whilst overseas and is based on pictures he used to use when communicating with locals. This developed into the book. Each page is double sided and the book contains hundreds of little cartoon drawings covering any number of situations that you might want to talk to someone about but would find it hard to because you both didn’t speak the same language. All the cartoons are grouped according into categories and each page edge is colour coded so red is used for emergency situations and so on. It’s a really clever idea and at about £8 for the basic book well worth the money. Looking at the website The Police have run a trial using it and there’s even a special Military spec one for the boys and girls overseas.

I’ve spent the morning thinking about things I might want to say and so far I’ve not found anything that I can’t use this book to say for me and I’m not a person of few words so I’m pretty impressed. There are similar things out there that have been more widely used and some of them are free, however in my opinion this really is a gem for the price, size and ease of use – yes you can print a pdf but to make is any good you’ll have to laminate it and all that takes time so why not just get one done for you? Of course the real test is taking it to Russia – although certain aspects of ‘youth culture’ means it may come in handy closer to home. However I think it will serve the 3 of us well on the trip and I’ll report on it’s usefulness upon our return.

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Wet weekend

As I couldn’t go camping with Mrs Cashmore this weekend – I decided to take advantage of the hideous weather to give the swag a good wet test.

First of all I wanted to play around with configurations to keep as much of the water off the bag as possible – that resulted in this set up:

Bottom of swag under basha

A simple rip-stop nylon basha combined with a ground sheet and a couple of poles. A simple solution that for about six hours in moderate winds kept 99% of the rain off the canvas.

However, I then left the swag, and having not tied the ropes down properly, the basha came lose and exposed the swag to the full fury of a coastal South Wales storm. Got up this morning to a small water problem. I’ve called this the second ‘test’, when in fact it was my stupidity forcing one.

Good stuff wet canvas

The canvas inside was dry, as was my sleeping bag and mat. I got in and gave the canvas a good prodding. Nothing got through. Must admit I was surprised and very impressed.

I then rolled the swag up, and left it in the back of the car for about six hours for the journey home. Just unrolled it and the water has started to seep inside. Not a great result, but proof if I needed it that I have to ensure that the bag just doesn’t get this wet – either by avoiding camping in the worst weather on the road – or by ensuring I get the basha set up properly and securely.

On a more successful note…. the poncho works!

Matt in Poncho

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Coolabah Swag bag – the wet weather test

As I couldn’t go camping with Mrs Cashmore this weekend – I decided to take advantage of the hideous weather to give the swag a good wet test.

First of all I wanted to play around with configurations to keep as much of the water off the bag as possible – that resulted in this set up:

Bottom of swag under basha

A simple rip-stop nylon basha combined with a ground sheet and a couple of poles. A simple solution that for about six hours in moderate winds kept 99% of the rain off the canvas.

However, I then left the swag, and having not tied the ropes down properly, the basha came lose and exposed the swag to the full fury of a coastal South Wales storm. Got up this morning to a small water problem. I’ve called this the second ‘test’, when in fact it was my stupidity forcing one.

Good stuff wet canvas

The canvas inside was dry, as was my sleeping bag and mat. I got in and gave the canvas a good prodding. Nothing got through. Must admit I was surprised and very impressed.

I then rolled the swag up, and left it in the back of the car for about six hours for the journey home. Just unrolled it and the water has started to seep inside. Not a great result, but proof if I needed it that I have to ensure that the bag just doesn’t get this wet – either by avoiding camping in the worst weather on the road – or by ensuring I get the basha set up properly and securely.

On a more successful note…. the poncho works!

Matt in Poncho

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Coolabah Swag Bag Review

Choosing a tent to take overland is never an easy task, do you go for weight? What about material? Cost? All very important questions, but ultimately I think it boils down to how you work with the tent and how it works for you in return.

I know, slightly strange to be talking about forming some sort of bond with something as silly as a tent, but after all this small, insubstantial shelter is going to be your home for the next goodness knows how long, why not take some care in what you chose? Why not take into account how you feel about your home?

Coolabah Swag BagWith that in mind may I introduce the first tent that has made me feel something about how it’s put together – the Coolabah swag bag from Burke and Wills – distributed in this country by www.theaussieshop.co.uk

It’s completely made of canvas, both it’s best and worst point. I remember when I was a kid camping with my dad, a massive six person tent that took up the entire rear of the car, and took about a week to put up. It smelt bad when it rained, if it rained for more than a couple of hours you’d get a fine mist working its way through the material. But it seems even with the oldest tent material in the world we can have a bit of an update.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is, but it’s more ‘waxy’ and even though I’m yet to test it in the wet I can quite believe the claim from Burke and Wills that once it’s been wet, the seams expand and it’ll deal with everything but the worst of the weather. They suggest before you use it you take it out and give it a good hosing. Makes sense.

It’s certainly a ‘choice’, once I’d decided that I didn’t want to take a tent that took a lot of time to put up, and decided that I didn’t need a tent that I could get changed in etc, then the one man options became more sensible, the problems as ever boiled down to how you get in and out when it’s raining and where do you sit if it rains.

I’ve looked at a lot of one and two man tents, but all the modern ones just seem to be far to complicated. I’ve been looking for something that I can pull off the back of the bike un-roll and get in – complete with sleeping mat and bag. With the Coolabah I’ve finally found it. It ships with a foam mattress that frankly I’d be comfortable with as my main bed, but practically it’s just too big and doesn’t roll to a sensible size. I’ve now replaced that with my Exped Downmat (from Traveldri-Plus) and my sleeping bag – it now rolls up to half the size but it’s still fairly wide. If you’re on a narrow bike with no panniers you may struggle to find a way to fit it on. My bike, just like me, is quite wide and with 54 litre panniers on either side this isn’t going to cause me a problem.

Top entranceThe attention to detail is superb. As you get into the tent through the very accessible top door and put your head on the pillow you notice immediately how well put together it is, how close all the stitching is and how good the material is. I was very impressed when I saw a handy little loop for my torch and a series of pockets just above my shoulder for those little things like phones and glasses. I was slightly concerned about storage for things like my camera, but actually there’s so much room down by your feet that I stowed both my stills and video camera there without noticing them during the night.

There’s enough space inside to comfortably move around during the night and even change your undies and put some trousers on, but putting a top on is a bit difficult and you’ll need to poke your head out to achieve the more space conscious dressing activities.

The design is perfect, rather than the usual crawling into your tent you use a door on the top of the tent, very coffin like. In reality this means you can lie down and look out at the stars, either directly or through the mosquito net before pulling the canvas door over your head for a totally dark night. There is a door at the very end you can crawl through – but frankly – I don’t fit – I do like the fact you can leave the canvas on the end open with the net down however.

Coolabah swag bag on back of bikeIn summary, a great tent, very well made and once you’ve pulled out the supplied foam mattress and replaced it with a more sensible version just right for putting up each night very quickly. The only issues are with the size once rolled up – if you can deal with that and can find a sensible way to cover yourself in the rain (think tarp and poles off your bike) then go for it.

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Trangia Review

Continuing the series of video reviews, in this episode we look at the Trangia 25-5 – that’s the 2-4 person system that’s non-stick.

(embedded movie from blip.tv)

The Trangia is a wonderful all round system. I use the 25 (the slightly larger version) because I find the 27 too small for a decent cup of tea for more than one person, and whilst there is an obvious space saving issue, I also find the 27 too fiddly to use with the multi-fuel burner. Talking of which I’d consider the multi-fuel system an absolute must – the meths burner which comes with the system is fine if you have an hour to make a cup of tea – but as we discovered on the Dartmoor training run last year – the last thing you need when you’re cold and tired is to be wondering if your food will ever actually be ready.

The 25 can be had for around £50, the multi-fuel burner is about £80 and then you’re looking at between £5 and £10 for the various accessories, like the multi-disk and extra fuel bottle.

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Schuberth S1 Helmet – Review

I apparently own the best helmet money can buy, it’s nice to know that my £350 has gone some-way to giving me the quietest, safest lid on the market.

If you enjoy this review – I’ve written a few others you may like.

Schuberth S1 HelmetWhilst this image doesn’t do the lid any favours design wise, I can say that I have a very sexy lid… I paid a little extra and have a stunning paint job. Black with gold dragons, how could I refuse?

Let’s start with this lids biggest selling point… it’s supposed to be the quietest lid on the market, and when you put it on in the store you’re immediately grabbed by how little noise there is, the second thing that surprise me was how ‘lush’ the inside feels next to your skin. It’s the difference from going from a £1.50 disposable razor to the very latest Gillete Fusion, it’s like walking off hard stone into deep pile stately home luxury.


The second thing which surprises you is the internal sun visor, Schuberth where the first to introduce this, and in my opinion still implement it in the best way. A quick flick of the slider on your left hand side and it’s down, again a quick flip and it’s up – easy to do at 5mph and 130mph (so I’m told ;-)). If it was left up to me I would have made the internal visor a few shades darker, but to be frank I’ve not come across sun strong enough to make me want to put extra sun glasses on – not even that low autumn glowing red ball that normally makes me pull over and grab the glasses… and there-in lies it’s benefit – no pulling over when you get surprised by the sun, or if the sun suddenly goes away.

The S1 is also one of the safest lids on the market, it’s what Schubert call S.T.R.O.N.G.S

S. –   RIM
T. — THIN-WALL
R. — REINFORCED
O. — OPTIMIZED
N. — NON-WOVEN
G. — GRP

It also has A.R.O.S

A.R.O.SA.R.O.S. –
Anti-Roll-off-System

Which will stop the helmet being pulled off your head in the case of an accident. A rather clever idea and one that inspires confidence in the though process behind this lid.

Finally, but certainly not least important, this lid is really warm, it was a little too warm over the summer, but now the weather is closing in I’m rather glad of it… it’s like being wrapped in a warm blanked… no cold air sneaks in past the neck huger and I don’t have to put up with running eyes that my old lid used to cause as cold air streamed past my neck and hit my face.

The only failing with this lid has been the outer visor – it’s not very fog resistant – most mornings I have to open it a crack to let in a little bit of air – most of the time I can just open the front vent – but if you’re sat in traffic – forget it – you’ll need to open it. Not the end of the world, and a very small failing for what is, overall, a very comfortable, very warm, very safe helmet. I can’t recommend it enough.

If you enjoy this review – I’ve written a few others you may like.

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