Our very own Frank Melling has completed the second book in his autobiographical oeuvre, a saga which started with “A Penguin in a Sparrow’s Nest.” The follow-up, titled “The Flying Penguin – More Stories of a Freelance Motorcycling Journalist,” picks up where the first book left off, just after a particularly significant and difficult life event. We won’t reveal exactly what happened, but rest assured that it was shattering.
We’re clearly fond of Mr. Melling around these parts, and highly suggest you pick up a copy of both books here: www.frankmelling.co.uk.
Since we’re also clearly biased, we won’t try to disguise this as an objective review of the book. That being said, he’s a remarkable guy that’s led a fascinating life full of motorcycling adventures, with a fair number coming as a result of his work as a freelance journalist. Many of these are recounted in the pages of the Penguin books, and so will appeal to anyone with a love of two wheels.
He’s also a relentlessly determined individual, so folks that enjoy stories of achievement in the face of insurmountable odds will find pleasure in the Penguin series. This is particularly true of the second installation where the unique characteristics which make a successful freelancer are employed in pursuits as broad as event organizing, publishing, cooking and courtship.
“The Flying Penguin” starts with a 38-year-old Melling and proceeds to the present day. Owing to the trajectory of the earlier book, “The Flying Penguin” starts with Melling at rock bottom. He’s still employed as an educator and is still an avid motorcyclist, but he can barely pull himself out of bed. The bank account is drained and he’s rationing food as if it were wartime. Writing becomes merely one of those things that he used to be able to do.
But things eventually turn in a new direction and the rise from the dregs is encouraged by a new four-legged friend and a surprising aptitude for cooking. A reunion with Eddie Crooks gets Melling back on a Suzuki for some enduro competition, but it quickly becomes clear that his serious enduro racing days are a thing of the past.
Undeterred, Melling finds yet another motorcycling avenue to pursue – importing classic motorcycles from the United States to sell in Britain. This arrangement works wonderfully for a period, until a particularly colorful character from Missouri threatens to derail the entire operation. A trip to America to meet with said character results in an encounter almost too outlandish to believe.
The plus side is that it gives Melling and his wife Carol the chance to tour the States a bit, right around the time of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. They make it to South Dakota without incident and then Melling proceeds to enter a hill climb competition as part of a freelance writing assignment.
Other notable motorcycling escapades include riding a Norton Kneeler at Autodrome de Linas-Montlhery, an historic race track just outside Paris built in the 1920s that used to host the Bol d’Or endurance race. Melling also competes in a full championship season with the Vintage Motorcycle Club as a grass tracker and later achieves one of his dreams – racing at Daytona International Speedway. He also goes on to conceptualize and organize The Thundersprint, a motorcycling event that at its peak generated attendance of more than 140,000 spectators in a single weekend.
What makes “The Flying Penguin” more than just a series of disconnected two-wheeled tales is the life of the man writing the book.
As an educator, he developed a publication for students written by students that eventually became a national phenomenon. This work depends particularly on his ability at soliciting sponsorships, gained during his days as a racer, to generate complete support for the project without need for funds from the school districts he serves. Melling then transfers that expertise to populations inside prisons, working with inmates to create a publication that gives voice to the incarcerated. These efforts derived from an inimitable belief in the power of literacy to liberate and empower, one of the recurring themes throughout both Penguin books.
And of course, there’s a wild road trip to the Sahara Desert for a picnic. The return through Morocco results in some of the most incredible non-motorcycle-related adventures in the book.
Melling becomes a father along the way, vastly expands his freelancing resume and develops relationships with some of the greatest riders in the history of motorsport as Thundersprint approaches maturity.
“The Flying Penguin” is an absorbing look into an extraordinary life, one that proves time and again that hard work and passion can take a person to incredible heights. Melling weaves motorcycling anecdotes with accounts from his non-riding life with grace, wit and honesty and the result is a book that’s genuinely hard to put down.