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Book Review:
Bouquet of Shale
By Jeff Scott

Jeff Scott's writing is a bit like marmite. You either love it, or you hate it, or you've no strong feelings either way, or you've had more than enough of it or you've never tried it. There's basically a wide range of differing opinions. The Danish view on his work is not known.

What's not in doubt is the passion and commitment he has for writing about the sport of speedway. This is the sixth year in a row that he's toured the tracks of the UK and recorded his experiences in book form. This year's volume is Bouquet of Shale, which is undeniably a rather odd title and perhaps too similar to differentiate this offering from his previous books. One wonders whether a simpler title that includes a reference to the year being covered might, with the benefit of hindsight, have been a better idea?

Bouquet of Shale runs to 274 pages, virtually all filled with Jeff's prose and a selection of small black and white photographs as illustration. Each chapter covers a single meeting - starting in mid-May and running through to the end of October. The format remains familiar - some pre-meeting chat with members of the speedway community, reaction to the events on track and a splash of (generally humorous) commentary on the places and people that he encounters.

Sometimes you get more than you bargain for when you attend a meeting, as Jeff finds out when he's out and about. It's perhaps ironic that in one chapter Jeff unwittingly finds his comments being recorded for future use, given that much of this book relies upon remembering and relating conversations he has with others. This style still works fantastically well and we get to share some in some great moments of terracing humour and 'quotes' from promoters and riders that you'd certainly never find in an official press release. It all makes for an entertaining and informative read and the self-contained chapters make it ideal for dipping in and out of.

Scattered throughout are pearls of wisdom from those who've been involved in the sport, such as ace-tuner and former rider Guy Allott:

"I've been to speedway all my life and I can honestly say speedway is the worst bloody run sport in the world and the best sport in the world to watch!"

Difficult to argue with that.

Another veteran of many speedway seasons is Gordie Day, former Press Officer at Poole. He makes a most thought provoking observation:

"It's not a bleeding family sport, it's an extreme sport on the edge! What can be more extreme than riders racing fractions of an inch apart on bikes without brakes for glory? While the present promoters remain, the sport isn't going to change or rebrand itself! It's an extreme sport on the edge but, to acknowledge that, would be dangerous for some people."

While speedway has always prided itself on its family friendly image, perhaps there's something in what Gordie says?

Given the regularity with which Scott produces these books, there's undoubtedly a school of thought that the law of diminishing returns has kicked in - at least in terms of interest and sales, rather than quality. Jonathan Chapman makes this observation in the book in conversation with Jeff:

"If I'm honest, your format needs changing or sharpening up. You've done it before so maybe you or the fans are getting a bit bored with it now? Why not do 'a day in the life of 35 speedway riders? Why not follow different people that you like round? Riders, referees, promoters and that. Maybe write a book on Chris Holder or Darcy Ward? Not Lewis that would be boring and not Troy as he'd be throwing his dummy out all the time."

Shortly afterwards Johnny Barber puts this advice in context:

"What he really meant was - how about a year in the life of a speedway promoter and football manager!"

The author is clearly comfortable that there's still a place for his books, so all we can do is judge it on its merits. He remains an engaging writer with an incredible eye for detail, others may feel they could produce something similar but they'd be hard pushed to match the quality of Scott's work. There's plenty of humour in the writing, many astute observations and just enough introspection to give it some depth.

We wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book, though at �20 a copy it may be too much for some pockets in these troubled economic times.

 

This book is available from www.methanolpress.com

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