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20th May 2015

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A Penguin In A Sparrow's Nest by Frank Melling

Perhaps best known in recent years for organising the Thundersprint, it turns out that Frank Melling has a past. And he's written a book about it...

Some people take an entire lifetime to reveal their true selves. Others discover their path early in life. Frank Melling – rider, writer, racer and enough of a rebel to be a genuine entrepreneur to boot – got off to an early start in his teenage years with a BSA C15, a bank loan and a yearning to go faster and then tell everyone about it. In this first instalment of his life story, he explains how a skint lad from Warrington got to be more than halfway decent at riding rapidly on the grubby stuff, started his own race team, and carved himself a career as a freelance motorcycling journalist.

A Penguin In A Sparrow's Nest by Frank Melling

Melling’s memories in this book span the period from the 1960s through the 70s, so they encapsulate the end of the British bike industry – he got to see Hailwood race at the TT, lucky dog – and into the modern era. The behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the dying days at BSA-Triumph are fascinating (as is the possible origin of the TR5T frame!). Melling describes his triple lives which progressed in parallel; his day-job as a teacher, his writing for magazines and his off-road riding career. Starting with UK-built dirt bikes like Greeves and his special B50, Melling later moved onto Bultaco and Suzuki strokers, and even crossed paths with BMW’s mighty Paris-Dakar boxers.

A Penguin In A Sparrow's Nest by Frank Melling
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This volume is as much about the life and times of any motorcyclist who took to the road in the latter half of the 20th century as it is Frank’s own personal story. There are dozens of tall tales and absurd episodes which every rider can relate to, told in the author’s naturally chatty manner as if you’re sharing a pint and a pie at the local pub. The writing effortlessly drags you back to a similar pivotal point in your own life – like the moment when he’d secured a place at college, the first in his family to go on to further education, and finally received encouragement to submit an article to a professional motorcycle magazine. Frank’s delight at the latter was abruptly punctured by his parents’ concern: ‘don’t let bikes ruin your bike, love…’

How many of us have been there and heard that in one way or another?

A Penguin In A Sparrow's Nest by Frank Melling

There are also hair-raising episodes of near-misses and hard-fought race wins; plenty of scrapes and bruises and the odd punctured lung. Melling doesn’t shirk from showing us the reality of riding a bike hard and fast, but he also reveals the moments in motorcycling when the human spirit shines through – like when a stranger lends a helping hand to a lad down on his luck. Or how, in a particularly poignant episode, the demands of the freelance writing trade brought him back from the brink of an irrevocable decision.

A Penguin In A Sparrow's Nest by Frank Melling

At its core, ‘Penguin’ tells an entertaining tale of an unconventional young man’s motorcycling life. It’s pure nostalgia for those who rode in the 1960s and 70s – and an eye-opening revelation for anyone who’s taken to two wheels in more recent years.

Rowena Hoseason

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‘A Penguin In A Sparrow’s Nest’ by Frank Melling is available in paperback which runs to 224 pages with 16 pages of illustrations. It costs £11.99, delivery free in the UK, from www.frankmelling.com An ebook is also available from Amazon

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