in 1965, owen maclaren designed a lightweight, collapsible stroller (kids' buggy) that made him a household name. his 'real' job, prior to this invention was designer of the spitfire's undercarriage.
over the past week, i have passed this information onto several less than interested persons, not only because i could, but because i thought it one of those fascinating facts that might just come in very handy should they ever find themselves in the midst of an islay pub quiz. oddly enough, that seems not to have made this gem of information any more interesting. following on from this fascinating nugget in the brooks compendium is further elucidation as to the inventor of the first bank cash machine (john shepherd-barron in case you're interested).
i offer this information lest you think a rather finely bound and illustrated volume entitled brooks compendium will simply be a never-ending gallery of leather saddles. just to prove that i may need to get out more often, i'd have been quite content if that had truly been the case, but presumably to appeal to more than an audience of one, editor guy andrews has curated an exquisite selection of images, stories and features, including that of great british ingenuity from which the opening gem was gleaned.
were i pushed to make a single criticism, it would centre round the opening gallery of almost abstracted illustrations which extends to eleven spreads. personally speaking, as a former art student, i find them a quite congruous combination of the old and new, but in general terms it's perhaps not the ideal way to introduce the book to those expecting a more traditional state of affairs.
however, matters are more clearly explained in the preface on page 16. "This book is not solely about Brooks. It's about the world around Brooks, the world we get inspired by and the world that we endeavour to inspire with our products. In the following pages you will not read and see much about Brooks, only indirectly...". for though brooks saddles (apart from the more recent cambium range) are still produced in smethwick's downing street, the company is owned by selle royal of italy, having purchased it lock stock and leather from pashley fourteen years ago.
the story of john boultbee brooks having his horse die and borrowing a particularly uncomfortably upholstered bike which pushed him to invent the original leather bicycle saddle is quite well known. what is perhaps less well known is the more recent story of selle royal's riccardo bigolin. not only is his more recent history brought to light in the very same preface, it is almost comforting to have brooks' brand director, andrea meneghelli quite freely point out that the company is no longer british owned. this in comparison to many an islay distillery that would prefer not to admit that many of those casks of the amber nectar are matured in a glasgow warehouse as opposed to one sited by the shores of loch indaal.
however, as the preface states, this book is not specifically about brooks; inference is a wonderful bedfellow.
contributions from the great and the good are in pleasant abundance: bella bathurst, jack thurston, mr andrews along with david millar, joe hall and the inestimable geoff dyer. illustrations and imagery also abound, creating one of those books that will take pride of place in any library, whether cycling specific or otherwise. in fact, from the point of view of those snippets of british ingenuity and brief interviews with such as sir paul smith, simon mottram, will butler adams, timothy everest and others, there's questionable need for the potential purchaser to even know what a brooks saddle is in the first place.
but the best bit is the book's less than ostentatious presentation. it might not be too untoward to expect the italian owner of a british company to perhaps over-egg the pudding when it comes to a display of 'britishness', or to less than subtly infer more italiana than strictly necessary. in the brooks compendium neither is the case; yes, there are the british interviewees, yes, the british ingenuity chapter and yes, an image gallery of brooks employees and believe it or not (and worth the price of admission alone) fausto coppi at the royal albert hall. but the only reason those now appear to stand out, is because i've reviewed it that way.
aside from the book's beauty as a prized object, it takes the form of a highly desirable magazine with hardcovers, one that bears repeated reading or viewing. where else would you find velocipedinal delights such as a cycling double bass player alongside marcel duchamp and john logie baird?
the saddle of enlightenment.
"The future for cycling looks brighter - more fun, more glamorous and more popular - than ever, as more and more people realise that car cutlure is dirty, noisy and doomed." geoff dyer.
thursday 22 december 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................