There was no more perfect book to read in the early months of lockdown than Full Tilt, Dervla Murphy’s famous account of her solo bicycle ride from Ireland to India.
I bought a battered copy with a 1980s cover on eBay and used it as a prompt to dream of travel when travel itself was not possible. Murphy, who died a week ago at the age of 90, at her home in Lismore in Ireland, undertook her most well-known journey in 1963, fulfilling an ambition she had held since she was 10. She arrived in India in July 1963. I think of Murphy often. The reasons are largely sentimental, which, you can only surmise from her writing, she would have detested. She is one of the least sentimental writers I have ever read and her straightforwardness is part of her brilliance.
I think of the simple courage and awesome recklessness of her travelling, often alone, never in vehicles (at least not that she was driving), but on mules, bikes and foot, over mountains and through deserts and forests. She was famously attacked by wolves that she shot at during the Full Tilt journey in Bulgaria. She said that in order to be brave, you had to be afraid in the first place, which she never was.
Young boys grow up being given stories of adventures and adventurers, but young girls have to find them. Reading Full Tilt made me feel as if I were eight years old again.
It is easier than ever to assume the world is a terrible place and that people are awful and that kindness and empathy are dying qualities. But it is Murphy’s writing that comes to mind when that hopelessness creeps in. She describes travelling through countries with little or no money, without knowing the language nor what or who she would encounter. There are bad people, but most are welcoming and as curious as she is, opening their homes and cafes to this Irishwoman on a bicycle who has made her way to the mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan. Her books are reminders that most people are fundamentally good.
Yet Murphy was under no illusion that the world then was not the same as now. “Politically, the world has changed too much,” she told the Financial Times in one of her last interviews, in April. But there is such joy to be found in her work still. Speaking to the Guardian in 2018, she denied that she was an adventurer, out to overcome. “I am travelling to enjoy myself,” she said, with perfect simplicity.
George Clarke: how to turn property into a game show
The architect and TV presenter George Clarke knows there is a housing crisis in the UK. He has written eloquently and passionately about the multifaceted problems the UK is facing, railing against greedy developers, ineffective government policies and a lack of affordable social housing. “I’m someone who doesn’t believe really in the capitalist, globalised world,” he told the Big Issue, in 2021 last year.
So why is he presenting the new Channel 4 series George Clarke’s Flipping Fast, which began last week? The programme turns the hectic property market, which has so eradicated the notion of a home as a basic entitlement for all, into a game show. This Apprentice-esque competition sees six teams armed with £100,000 cash to buy properties, do them up, then “flip” them, ie sell them on for a profit.
It’s like arriving at the scene of a fire, noting that it’s hot, then pouring petrol on it just to see what will happen next. The winner will get to keep £100,000. It was pointed out, at the start, that at least two of the contestants have been unable to get on to the property ladder and this money would make that possible. But the show is promising to put them on that ladder while pulling it even further out of everyone else’s reach.
After watching the first episode, I did wonder if there was another way to see it. Perhaps there is a subversive message buried deep within its practical scratchy carpets and bland white walls. It makes “flipping’” look like a total nightmare that isn’t worth the effort. Maybe that’s what Clarke is up to, after all.
Halsey: demand for viral TikToks causes content fatigue
The singer Halsey ignited a debate about TikTok last week when she posted that she had a song ready to release, but her label wouldn’t “let me” until she could “fake a viral moment on TikTok”. “Everything is marketing,” she wrote.
Other pop stars have voiced similar complaints. Florence Welch, of Florence + the Machine, posted a clip of her singing a cappella, claiming that her label was begging her for “lo fi tik toks”. “Please send help,” she wrote, looking as if she would rather be anywhere else. Charli XCX and FKA Twigs have joined the chorus of disapproval with their own posts about the constant demand for content and that is a supergroup I would pay to see.
Social media is part of the “brand” of an artist, but it is not the same as advertising, though labels often blur the lines. There is confusion as to whether success should be measured in listeners or followers, viewers or sales or likes or shares. It ends up as an unhappy hodgepodge of the lot.
It’s worth noting that these women are long-established artists who feel able to speak up after years in the industry. Halsey’s TikTok did, of course, go viral.