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Madly Cycling

Dummy Jim Cycled

While recently recovering from surgery, I found myself needing something to read that was different from my usual diet. I looked at my stack of unread books with new eyes and lit upon a volume that had I had been passing over for weeks as simply too quirky. But now I was desperately in the mood for something off-beat.

A few months earlier, a long-time Vertigo reader had sent me a book he thought I might enjoy called I Cycled into the Arctic Circle: A Peregrination by James Duthie and Matt Hulse, published by the Saltire Society, Scotland in 2015. As it turns out, it’s a wondrous and utterly uncategorizable book that I read in a single sitting. In 1951, a deaf Scotsman named James Duthie decided to bicycle to Morocco. He headed south and crossed the Channel into France, where he suddenly veered east into Belgium, Holland, and Germany, before turning north into Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, ultimately reaching the Arctic Circle. A few years later, Duthie wrote a short book about his three-month trip, which he apparently sold door to door to fund future bicycle trips. Since then, Duthie’s I Cycled into the Arctic Circle has become a fairly rare book and a bit of a cult item that strikes me as the literary equivalent of outsider art. (While it’s a book of travel writing, it’s definitely not Patrick Leigh Fermor.) Duthie comes off as affable, intensely curious, and eternally optimistic – the kid of guy who will talk with anyone, anywhere.

May 30. I woke up in the morning at sunrise and counted and examined all my belongings after having a good breakfast. I pumped the tyres of my bicycle, went back to the main road which is very good and flat for cycling, and contemplated going to Flensburg.

I saw the well-built aerodrome during my run to Flensburg. It is the Royal Air Force’s property…

I went straight to the German-Danish frontier after a short visit to Flensburg.

A German police official stamped my passport. Another German police official permitted me to enter the Danish border. In Denmark I bought ice cream at a small shop which is attached to the Danish bank at the border.

In 2001, artist, writer, filmmaker, and Duthie enthusiast Matt Hulse began contemplating a film about Duthie’s book, which was finally produced in 2013.  The trailer for the film, which is called Dummy Jim after Duthie’s nickname, seems to confirm that the film is, as one reviewer put it, “utterly bonkers.” The book, to quote from the official website,

brings the cyclist’s original text into play with the filmmaker’s own frank reflections on the complicated 13-year journey that led to his film adaptation Dummy Jim (2013).

Extracts from Hulse’s original and largely unseen screenplay, recipes, new critical writing from Amanda Game, Sarah McIntosh, Chris Fujiwara and Gareth Evans, location stills photography from Ailsa McWhinnie, Samuel Dore and Ian Dodds, plus a newly commissioned poem from Aberdeenshire’s John Mackie.

Communications between Hulse and his many creative collaborators – without whom the kaleidoscopic project would never have seen the light of day – complete this rich volume.

I often scan and reproduce pages from the books I write about, but in this case, I don’t have to. Here’s a link to the Dummy Jim website, where there is a brief video that flips through every page of the book in less than twenty seconds. Finally, when you have a few minutes to kill, there’s a wonderfully interactive website for the film over at

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Good to see you back! To add to your reading list, a few random items: (1) a book I picked up from reading Ernst van Alphen’s “Staging the Archive”: a thin paperback with a baroque title, by Leanne Shapton, “Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris… [it goes on…]”, which takes the form of an illustrated auction catalog with detailed item descriptions which the readers can use to construct the narrative (van Alphen remarks how all reviewers talk about the book as if it were already composed as a linear story, skipping right over the relationship between photographs and dry itemized descriptions); (2) Sasha Abramsky’s “House of Twenty Thousands Books”, which I imagine is already on your radar; and (3) another handsome edition from Wave Books: a book of poetry by Tyehimba Jess, entitled “Olio”, which I reviewed extensively on LT, without mentioning however that it contains a number of photographs, one of which will qualify as “embedded” in the narrative, plus several in the (no less poetic) explanatory “appendix”.

    June 19, 2016
  2. Ela, Thanks, as always, for your great comments and suggestions.1) I wrote with mixed feelings about Shapton’s book when it came out in 2009: 2) I definitely have the House of 20,000 Books on my to-read list. 3) And I will look at Jess’ book Olio. -Terry

    June 20, 2016
    • 1) apparently I need to hone my index-reading skills! To your assessment of Shapton, I would add that there isn’t enough of a sense of ruin (unlike, say, Boltanski’s inventories), which perhaps tells more about the reader’s personal aesthetic than the book. -e.

      June 21, 2016

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