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Travelling hopefully

Cerebral palsy has done little to quash Jamie Tinklepaugh’s wanderlust, as Piers Plowright discovers in an entertaining and life-affirming read

25 July, 2019 — By Piers Plowright

Jamie Tinklepaugh: It’s a cruel, crazy, beautiful world

JAMIE Tinklepaugh has always been a traveller.

As a small child in Camden the books that caught his imagination were about distant places and full of exotic happenings, often parables.

Like the inquisitive camel that wanted to know what a tent was and finding out, destroyed it.

When he was a bit older, he and his artist father, Peter, would go to a London train terminal, examine the wall map and choose a destination they liked the sound of: Biggleswade was one of them, not perhaps as exciting as young Jamie had imagined, though an encounter with an angry shotgun-wielding farmer in a field spiced things up a bit.

Later the trips got more glamorous: Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Switzerland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and beyond to Morocco and South Africa.

And then, recently and the subject of his book, Wheeling East, the Trans-Siberian to China and Hong Kong. What makes Jamie’s travels remarkable is that he was born with cerebral palsy and makes all his journeys in a wheelchair – accompanied by his father.

The Trans-Siberian route

His parents, Peter and Ann, were determined that nothing would be allowed to stand in the way of a rich and full life.

In Jamie’s own words: “They showed me it’s a cruel, crazy, beautiful world and if you are determined enough, you can do anything.”

And so he has, delighting in stories and poetry.

He writes his own, revelling in words, whether puns or poems, and surviving and celebrating the most difficult city in the world for a wheelchair user, Venice, a deafening crowd of Milan supporters in the San Siro stadium, swimming in Lake Zurich, the descent into the Grand Canyon, and mammoth story-telling sessions in Morocco.

The Trans-Siberian journey tested him and Peter to their limits: Russian and Chinese bureaucracy, the often complete absence of lifts or ramps, and the mixture of puzzlement and curiosity that greeted the strange sight of a young man in a wheelchair and his photographing, sketching, father.

As always, though, the kindness of strangers prevailed: a young Moscow security guard who finds a key to operate an unused lift, the staff of a small back-street café in Xian, home of the Terracotta Warriors, who help carry Jamie upstairs to a primitive but much-needed toilet, an elderly woman in Suzhou who navigates foreign maps and a maze of alley ways to guide them to one of the famous traditional gardens.

Throughout this beautifully illustrated book – Peter’s photos and drawings – Jamie’s eye and ear for detail bring every page to life.

Jamie Tinklepaugh with Piers Plowright

As always it’s the small things, not the tourist attractions, that illuminate: a conversation in a barbers, using the barber’s teenage son as interpreter; a Shanghai motorcycle shop owner who breaks off from his solitary game of pool to repair the broken right-hand brake on the wheelchair; holiday-makers on the beach at Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay.

When Peter and Jamie finally make it back to Heathrow, exhausted and wheelchair-less (it’s eventually found),

I felt like them that I had learnt what the writer, story-teller and one of Jamie’s mentors, Tahir Shah, calls the “courage to climb”.

  • Wheeling East. By Jamie Tinklepaugh, available on Amazon, £18.

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