This volume is the fifth book in a planned trilogy gone terribly, terribly wrong. It’s a must-have companion to Scott’s masterpiece Showered in Shale as well as his others: Shifting Shale, When Eagles Dared, or the poignantly photographed Shale Britannia.
By Jeff Scott: More Tales from the Shale
Scott continues to validate the sport’s authenticity as he celebrates the romance of its racing, the bravery of its competitors, and the idiosyncrasies of its partisans on and off the track.
Succumb to the spectacle, the people, and the journey across the peculiar speedway landscape and geography of Great Britain. Accompany Scott as he watches almost every speedway team in Britain compete. He lends you his nose as he savours the aroma of methanol, burgers, chips, stressed toilets, and excitement. From his favourite vantage point in the lee of the stadium grandstand or lost in thought on the road to (or from) yet another event behind the wheel and the wipers of his much-abused car, Scott will help you begin your own pilgrimage to speedway. And even though there may well be Concrete for Breakfast for some unlucky riders whose quest for glory ends in a bruised heap of broken bones and bike, Scott will cleave the chaos for you in such a way that the event will be invariably portrayed with the charm, irreverence, humanity and compassion.
Ian Macmillan, The Times, 28th June 2008
THERE ARE CERTAIN sports that seem to be shaped by their histories and their settings just for the purpose of lyrical description: county cricket, with its long afternoons in the sun, its trundle to the pavilion as the rain threatens, its slowly changing scoreboards and its dozing gents and ladies reading the newspaper under hats made of straw; professional football, with its drama and its excitement and the painful way that glory can turn to farce in the instant it takes someone to miss a penalty under floodlights that glow like jewels.
There’s a literature of mountaineering and sailing, and novels have been written about horse riding and rugby league and tennis. But speedway? Speedway as a source of poetic prose and philosophical discussion? There’s certainly been a bit of a speedway-shaped gap in the shelves marked Sporting Literature. Until now, that is.
Jeff Scott’s new book Concrete for Breakfast is possibly Speedway’s War and Peace, or its Ulysses, or, in some of the chapters, its local newspaper gossip page. It’s the epic by which all other books on the sport (there aren’t that many, let’s be honest, and Scott has written most of them) will be judged.
Scott is writer-in-residence at Eastbourne Speedway and he has a love/hate (or more accurately obsession/exasperation) relationship with the sport. He has previously published a couple of fine volumes, Showered in Shale and Shale Britannia, that take us inside a society that often seems hidden from view unless you’re a fan, and now in Concrete for Breakfast, he takes us on an odyssey across the 2007 season, to every stadium that staged the sport in a year that was blighted by the soaking summer and the inevitable feeling that here was a way of life heading for some kind of sunset.
As Scott explains in his foreword, Concrete continues his examination of the philosophical quest “What is speedway?” and the answers come tumbling out in a prose that possesses a kind of petrol-driven Dirty Realism, as though Raymond Carver had decided to turn up at a speedway meeting in Swindon on a dank March day with his notebook.
The picture that Scott paints is of a knowledgeable but shrinking community; as he writes: “the typical speedway supporter remains loyal but drawn from an ageing demographic that probably spells disaster for the longevity of the sport in the medium to long term”. Later he talks of a particular enthusiast’s “links to the salad days of the sport when it was wonderfully vibrant and truly a national pastime”.
The book does seem at times to be simply a catalogue of one more rain-spattered visit to one more mist-covered stadium, where one more gang of self-deprecating and bantering volunteers are waiting to prepare the track for one more afternoon of minority sport. Did I mention the rain and the mist from Sittingbourne to Scunthorpe? I think I did. “Nowadays it’s a minority sport served up in often decaying and poorly equipped stadia”, as Scott writes, mistily.
If you persist with Concrete you come to love the people whom Scott writes about and you come to share his enthusiasm, and a little of his exasperation. You see that in the end this is more than a book about a pastime that happens to be down on its luck. It’s a book about the persistence of the human spirit, about the odd juxtaposition of hours of hard physical work involving a family of volunteers who have been involved with speedway for years, and moments of extreme physical danger with fragile parts of the rider’s body inches from the unforgiving ground.
What Scott is really good at is detail, sacks and sacks of gorgeous detail, and a love of the specific and precise language of speedway, with its lay downs and dirt deflectors and double point tactical rides. He has a keen and sympathetic eye for human failings that somehow seem to be magnified around the track.
In one chapter, for instance, he describes the visit of a well-meaning BBC team representing the Reading and Writing scheme to the Isle of Wight meeting. The BBC Radio Solent presenter’s dress “indicated that she thought a speedway meeting might have something in common with a world premiere”, and there’s a splendid evocation of a race that Scott relates as “both a collector’s item and typifies the rough-and-tumble, needs must, show-must-go-on attitude that is one of the enduring appeals of speedway racing at Conference League level”.
Scott makes the sport seem somehow down to earth and heroic at the same time: “The initial running of the race has Brendan Johnson knocked off on the first bend and a rerun called by the referee for first-bend bunching…it would be safe to say that he appears not to be at all happy and, though normally a placid young man, it should be noted that he has martial arts expertise…”
Read this book for a glimpse of a lost tribe, for an examination of collectivism and individuality somehow working together, for endless descriptions of English weather, and for a brave attempt to pinpoint a particular branch of human endeavour that often seems to be far from the centre of things.
Heat 3 – “Concrete for Breakfast” from The Blunsdon Blog
When I was asked to pen words for a “Writer in Residence” slot with Swindon Speedway the first person I turned to for advice was the prolific speedway author Jeff Scott. Jeff’s books on speedway (“Showered in Shale”, “Shale Britannia”, “Where Eagles Dared” and “Shifting Shale”) have been the most innovative and enlightened additions to the library of speedway related books. Whilst many speedway books have been historical, autobiographical or biographical (and anything penned by Rob Bamford is to be commended here) Jeff Scott managed to capture the essence of the sport through observation and wit.
As “Writer in Residence” with Eastbourne last year and Reading this year, he has revolutionised speedway writing. His latest tome, “Concrete for Breakfast” is published this week and is his best one so far.
Jeff will be at the Abbey Stadium on Thursday 19th June to launch “Concrete for Breakfast” and it is appropriate that the launch should be at Swindon because a massive 9 chapters feature Swindon and life at the Abbey.
Below is the official review that I have written for the book, but believe me, it’s a great read – one that will bring a smile to any fan of the sport and which is guaranteed to fill those long and dark closed season nights.
“The best yet!”
‘Concrete for Breakfast’, Jeff Scott’s 5th part of a trilogy that “went wrong”, is addictive, funny, full of insight and much more relaxed and assured than the previous four parts of that trilogy.
All that is missing from Scott’s account of his travels around speedway tracks in 2007 is a “scratch and sniff patch” on the cover with that heady speedway methanol aroma that no fan of the sport can resist – everything else is there.
Building on “Showered in Shale” and “Shifting Shale”, Jeff Scott continues his examination not only of British Speedway in the 21st century, but also of British life, painting a beautifully descriptive picture of working and middle class Britain at rest and at play.
Witty, sharp and with a keen eye for detail, he describes the essential elements of the sport – the riders, administrators, volunteers and fans – and sets them against a backdrop of a sport that clings to the coat tails of major sports in this country
If you’re a regular speedway fan you’ll: know the riders; heard the interviews; read the comic; and watched the Sky coverage, but this books fills in all the gaps – it goes some way to capturing the very essence of the sport.
If you’ve never been to a speedway meeting you’ll still be entertained as Scott captures the characters, the artisans and the enthusiasts behind a sport that survives in spite of the odds.
The style is more fluent, more relaxed and more assured – this is Scott at his witty and descriptive best.”
If you can’t get along to visit Jeff at Swindon on Thursday, the book can be purchased on line at http://www.methanolpress.com/.
Jeff will also be doing a book signing at Cardiff on the day of the British Grand Prix, probably in the Collectors’ Fayre adjacent to the Millennium Stadium.
From The Weymouth Programme
Whenever Jeff Scott sends me the Weymouth chapters of his books to review, I open the ominous emailed chapters and start reading with a slight feeling of trepidation. It’s not because they aren’t fascinating reading! However, his uncanny knack of observing peoples idiosyncrasies that the rest of us barely notice can make for a cringeworthy read, particularly if you’re lucky enough to have made your way into his manuscript. Whether you’re a portly promoter, a rider with ridiculous hair or a passing fervent fan – get within ten feet of him and there you will be for posterity with your foibles in black and white for all to see. His observation skills and dry wit make his fifth book ‘Concrete for Breakfast’ another highly entertaining read. He paints a picture of speedway that makes you view it with fresh eyes.
This book, like the others, isn’t solely about the racing. Think along the lines of a written version of a Louis Theroux documentary about the people centre stage and behind the scenes of British speedway. The book gives us his unique take on the current state of British Speedway, while it also takes you from grass roots level to the lofty heights of the Elite League and beyond, including the many varied characters and places encountered along the way. It’s a good job it isn’t purely based on the on track escapades alone – since last season Weymouth had one meeting abandoned due to inclement weather plus one rain-off and Jeff chose to attend both those meetings! That said, he did chose a day when a parcel from a rather bashful ‘Wimbledon Fan’ found its way to the Wildcats photographer. The sender had enclosed a scarlet, slightly flamboyant under garment to be worn at said Dons meeting along with a note and operational instructions. Along with many other funny stories, this incident is included in the book, so the sender may or may not remain anonymous forever.
Jeff will be at Cardiff before he tours round speedway tracks with his books throughout the summer with his first (hopefully dry) visit to Weymouth on Saturday July 12th. His books can also be ordered online at Methanol Press.
The following images are pages from The Speedway Star book review, 3rd August 2008. Please click to enlarge.