References – Part 1: The Bicycle Ride

3: Gothic Transcendental

Chartres Cathedral, from the town

Readers may note that the body of literature left by Carl Sagan is paraphrased and alluded to throughout The Jolly Pilgrim. Regarding Cosmos, I first read it when I was 16 and it prompted me to take physics at university. When I re-read Cosmos in 2005 – as per Part 1 – I literally couldn’t believe how good it was. Better than anyone before or since, Professor Sagan articulates the holiness of creation by explaining it. In my view, he is the greatest scientific communicator who has ever lived and Cosmos is to popular science what Hamlet is to the stage play.

Regarding Civilisation: in this 1960s series (intended to show off the then-new medium of colour television) Kenneth Clark gives his personal view of the last thousand years of Western Civilisation, as understood through its art. Lord Clark is a member of the ‘old’ school of history (it’s all about great men and politics) while I subscribe to the ‘new’ school (it’s all about technology, economics and demographics). Nevertheless, one can only stand in awe of this extraordinarily learned man’s breathtakingly profound grasp of how the human spirit expresses itself through art – standing before you in his tweed jacket, offhandedly reciting Virgil.

Regarding Life on Earth: broadcast in 1979, and following the evolution of life, this programme founded the Life series for which David Attenborough is most famous. As cinematography is so critical to nature documentaries, Life on Earth doesn’t stack up to the later episodes in the Life series. However, it’s a seminal work of television, which was decisive in forming my world view.

Regarding bananas: between Friday 10 and Sunday 12 June, 2005, I ate 11 bananas. 11/3 = 3.666r = approx 3.67 bananas


Musings – How to Cross a Continent on a Bicycle

For the mentioned leaving party, my friend Katie Roberts designed a flyer using an image that had been taken by NASA the previous year. In my view it’s the most beautiful photograph ever to come out of the space programme. Click here to see the flyer.

When I wrote the book that sunrise image was the background to my computer monitor. It then became the image for the front cover. The Jolly Pilgrim was written to fit the sunrise image as much as the sunrise image was chosen to front the book.


5: Golden Brown, Texture Like Sun

Sappho is on the left

At La Rochelle, I spent one very happy afternoon lying outside my tent, eating a picnic with red wine and reading a copy of The Guardian International Version. In that newspaper was an article by Martin West, Professor of Classics at All Souls College, Oxford University. The article was about the fact they’d just definitively confirmed that an ancient poem believed to have been written by Sappho was indeed by her. There was also his translation and some notes. I was interested to see what something written my one of the greatest poets who ever lived would be like. I wasn’t disappointed. I wrote it straight down in the front of my big black book and it became a signature piece during my expedition to embrace the world before I myself faded away. I thought I’d reproduce it for you.

Note: Tithonus was a beautiful Trojan, captured by the dawn goddess. She asked Zeus to grant him eternal life, but forgot to ask for eternal youth. When ‘loathsome old age’ pressed full upon poor immortal Tithonus, the goddess laid him in a dark room, to babble away endlessly.

The poem is about growing old.

For you the fragrant-blossombed Muses’ lovely gifts
be zealous, girls, and the clear melodious lyre:
but my once tender body old age now
has seized: my hair’s turned white instead of dark;
my heart’s grown heavy, my knees will not support me,
that once on a time were fleet for the dance as fawns.

This state I oft bemoan; but what’s to do?
Not grow old, being human, there’s no way.
Tithonus once, the tale was, rose armed Dawn.
Love-smitten, carried off to the world’s end,
handsome and young then, yet in time grey age,
o’ertook him, husband of immortal wife.


6: Out of the West

The percentage of the EU budget spent on agricultural subsidies comes from The Economist, 23 June 2005.

The easterm Atlantic, from Dune de Pyla

The quoted percentage of EU output attributable to agriculture was drawn from The number I used in the original email (on 5 July 2005) was 1.6 %. Six years later, when fact-checking the book, I couldn’t source that number, so we used 1.8 % (the 2010 number quoted by the CIA). Other sources quote 2.3% for 2010. The number may have increased by new entrants into the EU, with large agriculturally sectors relative to the overall size of their economies. Obviously, it’s the magnitude of the number that’s my point. In 2011, EU budget spent on farm subsidies was down to about 35%.


8: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

The collection of paintings around the Vézère and Dordogne valleys are one of the crown jewels in the human race’s cultural and artistic heritage. To provide a full account of how those prehistoric artists affected my world view so deeply, and across so many
millennia, I must mention the stunning museum at Les Eyzies de Tayac,

The museum takes you through the prehistoric people’s of Europe culture by culture, providing a rich panorama of the complexity of human life across those now-forgotten ages. It’s one of the most brilliantly set out and informative museums I’ve ever visited.

Something readers may find interesting is that the cave artists almost certainly had black skin. This wasn’t because they weren’t the ancestors of the region’s current inhabitants (which they may or may not have been), but because at the time, in Eurasia, everyone probably had black skin. Caucasian (and, for that matter, mongoloid) features didn’t evolve until the end of the last major glaciation, around 10,000 BCE.

The population densities of the UK and France are from Lonely Planet, France, 2005. p43.


Musings – How to Cross a Continent on a Bicycle

The date of the last eruption in the Massif Central comes from Lonely Planet, France, 2005, p56.

New Horizons

The mentioned Pluto probe is New Horizons, at the time of writing on route to the dwarf planet Pluto. It will be the first spacecraft to flyby Pluto and its moons: Charon, Nix, Hydra and S/2011 P1. New Horizons may subsequently attempt flybys of Kuiper belt objects. The spacecraft flew by Jupiter on February 28, 2007, the orbit of Saturn on June 8, 2008; and the orbit of Uranus on March 18, 2011. It’s projected to reach Pluto on July 14, 2015.Regarding ITER, readers may note that the experimental fusion reactor is mentioned several times in The Jolly Pilgrim. I’m a strong advocate of this research and development megaproject. My view is that, given that energy is central to human civilisation’s sustainability and the enormous potential benefits of commercial fusion power, we need to take a long-term view of this class of game-changing technology, even if ITER ends up being only be one step along a complex road.


9: The Two-Legged, Two-Wheeled Groove Machine

Some additional information on the Viaduc de Millau: it was designed by the French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Norman Foster. It is the tallest, and the twelfth highest, bridge in the world. It consists of an eight-span steel roadway, supported by seven concrete pylons.

  • Construction cost (approx): €400 million
  • Height of smallest pylon: 77 m (253 ft)
  • Height of tallest pylon: 343 m (1,125 ft)
  • Length of roadway: 2,460 m
  • Average height of roadway: 270 m (886 ft)
  • Thickness of roadway 4.2 m (13 ft 9 in)
  • Width of roadway: 32.05 m (105 ft 2 in)
  • Weight of the bridge: 290,000 metric tons
  • Roadway slope: 3% (descending from south)
  • Estimated daily vehicle usage: 10,000–25,000

10: Mediterranean Blue

My figure for life expectancy in France (79 years) turns out to be the 2003 number. French life expectancy topped 80 the year before my trip (2004) and had risen past 81 by 2010. All numbers are from the French National Demographic Institute.

The figure for the proportion of the French population below the poverty line dates from 2001 and is from Le rapport de l’Observatoire national de la pauvreté et de l’exclusion sociale 2003–2004.


11: Ice Cream and Supercars

The population of Italy was taken from the CIA World Factbook, 2005.


Musings – Writing Home

‘Cauldron of seething excitations’ is a paraphrase of Sigmund Freud, whose model for the divisions of the psychic apparatus I’m referring to. In addition to the id and the ego mentioned in the text, that model also includes the superego: the component of our personality composed of our internalised ideals that we have acquired from our parents and society.

The reference to Alan Bennet’s book is a personal one. My mother and father sent me the book when I was living in Kerala in southern India, in 1996. I’ve always since associated it with the act of writing home.


At the Mediterranean

12: A City with Orange Trees

Regarding Constantinople and its fall, my knowledge base is largely drawn John Julius Norwich’s three books about the Byzantine Empire (The Early Centuries, The Apogee, The Decline and Fall) and Steven Runciman’s three-part History of the Crusades. When fact-checking the diary chapters we were unable to reference the story of the Genoan ship. I’m fairly sure I didn’t dream it up, so if anyone can point me to a reliable source, I’d be most grateful.

The figures for French and Italian GDP are taken from The World in 2005, The Economist Intelligence Unit.

The Jolly Pilgrim makes wide use of per capita GDP to describe human societies. I generally use the purchasing power parity measure of GDP. Some readers have expressed scepticism as to the usefulness of such numbers.

I could not disagree more. Numbers will never exactly define something as complex as a human society. However, in my experience, there is no single number which gives a better overall indication of the material nature of a particular society than its per capita GDP.


15: Italian Summer

The number of sand particles on all the beaches on planet Earth comes from mathematicians at the University of Hawaii.


This is a reference to Archimedes’ The Sand Reckoner. In the third century BCE, King Gelo II of Syracuse (or those associated with him) claimed that it would never be possible to know how many grains of sand there were on Earth. Archimedes responded by calculating the number. He then calculated the number of grains of sand which could fit into the universe. Go Archimedes.

‘I conceive, King Gelon, that among men who do not have experience of mathematics, such a thing might appear incredible. On the other hand, those who know of such matters and have thought about the distances and sizes of the earth, the sun, the moon, and the universe in its entirety will accept them due to my argument …’

Click here for the full text on The Sand Reckoner (in translation)

Regarding the number of stars in the Milky Way. Mainstream estimates range between 100 billion and 400 billion, with 200 billion (which is what I use in The Jolly Pilgrim) being the most oft-quoted number. One source is the Scienceray website (accessed 20 May 2010).


16: Four Glorious Days in Trieste

The information about Napoleon came from Ido Pevere, on the beach at Isola di Sant’Andrea, following quite a lot of red wine. My fandom of Inter Milan comes from Linda’s brother Paulo. He indicted me into the Bombardier Inter Milan supporters club. I have a club membership card, made from a beer mat.


17: Critters

Heading to Slovenia

Regarding ants: anyone familiar with these marvellous inspects will know that different ant species walk at wildly different speeds. Personally, I reckon a big ant, in a hurry, travelling in a straight line, on a flat surface, with a tail wind, could blow the pants off 20 metres per hour. However, that was the only number I could reliably reference. Here are two separate sources.

I can’t remember where I originally got my figure for the global ant population (ten thousand trillion). However, O N Wilson (one of the world’s greatest ant authorities) quotes it a few years later in his book The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies


18: Gandalf on Guitar

The Slovenian population figure was the July 2005 estimate from the CIA World Fact Book (accessed 29 August 2005).


19: Dazed, Confused and Mildly Infected

The Croation population figure was the July 2005 estimate from the CIA World Fact Book (accessed 17 September 2005).


In hospital

20: The English Patient

The percentage of New Orleans underwater came from The Economist, 13 September 2005. One of the doctors was kind enough to go into town and buy me a copy. With hindsight, I think my number may have been a week out of date.

22: Belgrade Calling

The 2005 global GDP statistics come from the CIA via Index Mundi.

For a sunnier figure have a look at World economic growth to top 4% in 2005 from the Economic Times.


23: Pianists, Moonshine and Coconuts

Regarding the observable universe’s galaxy-to-human-being ratio:

  • Estimate for number of the galaxies in the universe (as per subchapter 15): 200 billion Approximate number of people in the world (at the time, to the nearest billion): 6 billion
  • 200/6 = 33/1


24: The Old Serbian Bicycle Shop

Nenad in his bicycle shop

The numbers for the Serbian, Croatian and Italian economies come from the IMF and the World Bank via Index Mundi. The precise numbers are as follows:

GDP per capita (1992):

  • Serbia: $7,636
  • Croatia: $7,224
  • Italy: $18,570

Population (1992):

  • Serbia: 7,646,000
  • Croatia: 4,730,000
  • Italy: 56,767,000

Size of the Serbo-Croat economy: $90 billion
Size of the Italian economy: $1.026 trillion
1026/90 = 11.4

Here are links to those Index Mundi sources:

For the amount by which the Serbian economy shrank during the Yugoslav Wars is from Alert Net.


Musings – Wide-Angle Lens

For a big-picture narrative, employing modern historical theory: I cannot recommend highly enough Clive Ponting’s World History: A New Perspective. Along with Cosmos, this is the book that has been the most influential to me in my life. Professor Ponting’s tome is a stunning intellectual achievement. It changed the way I see human history. I also carried it around the world with me.

Regarding the beach fable, I don’t know where it originally came from (although I assume from Carl Sagan at some point). The story normally deals only with chimpanzees. Going back to Tyrannosaurs and Oak Trees was my idea. I did all my own numbers.

I assume an average female arm span of 1.5 metres. This is my source for that (accessed 1 December 2007, now apparently defunct, it was a Canadian statistical office document). I assume an average age of 20 for giving birth to daughters who live on to themselves reproduce.

For the woman alive when Chartres was built: Chartres is approximately 800 years old. So 800/20 = 40 generations since it was built. 80 x 1.5 metres = 60 metres

For the woman alive when the Western Roman Empire fell: the Empire fell approximately 1,600 years ago. So 1600/20 = 80 generations since the cathedral was completed. 160 x 1.5 metres = 120 metres.

For the woman alive when the Vézère caves were painted: the paintings are approximately 17,000 years old. 17000/20 = 850 generations. 850 x 1.5 metres = 1,190 metres = approx one and a quarter kilometres.

For Eve: she lives around 150,000 years ago. 150000/20 = 7,500 generations since she was alive. 850 x 1.5 metres = 11,250 metres = approx 11 kilometres.

For the human-chimpanzee common ancestor: Chimpanzees reach puberty at around 10 years and live until they’re 40. They are around a metre tall and have an arm span around 1.5 times their height, so that’s a 1.5 metre arm span. The common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees lived around 7 million years ago. I’m use a smaller average arm span of 1 metre, on the assumption the common ancestor was smaller. I’m further assuming that, on average over those 7 million years, the generations work out about the same as for humans and chimpanzees (possibly an overestimation?).

7,000,000 years / 20 = 400,000 generations. 400,000 x 1 = 400,000 metres = 400 kilometres

The human-tyrannosaur common ancestor is the mammal-reptile common ancestor, who lived around 320 million years ago. I originally did the maths for this one in my shed in 2007. I didn’t keep the workings. In re-doing the calculations for these references, I think I got my calculation wrong. The basic equation is as follows:

Distance along beach = (time since common ancestor/length of generation) x arm span

Three hundred thousand kilometres (300 million metres) along the beach and 320 million years, would imply a generation-to-arm-span ratio of 1.07. So if, on average, across those 320 million years, our ancestors reproduced at the age of 1.07 years, they would need an arm span of one metre for my 300,000 kilometre figure to be correct. Land animals that large almost never reproduce that fast. Also, for most of that period, the ancestors in question would have been something broadly equivalent to a rodent, and not big enough to have a arm span of a metre. On reflection, I think more realistic numbers would be an arm span of around half a metre and a generation time of 5 years. This would imply:

320 million / 5 = 64 million generations.

64 million x 0.5 = 32 million metres = 3.2 million kilometres

Which basically means I was out by almost exactly one order of magnitude. Would anyone like to check my calculations before we amend for the next reprint?


25: Six Hundred Kilometres Along the Danube

Some readers have asked to see the furiously-scribbled poems that I composed during my way across Europe. While those poems weren’t good enough to go in the book, I am happy to share them – they do form an accurate record of my state of mind during the bicycle ride to Istanbul. A selection of the poems, with notes, can be found here.


27: Istanbul or Bust

My main source of information for Basil II is John Jules Norwich’s Byzantium: The Apogee.

The coffee prices in various European countries were drawn from my general knowledge, having spent five months drinking coffee. The only country which equals Italy for coffee quality is Australia, by the way.


Just arrived in Istanbul


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