Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Old ‘arry’s game

March 5th, 2012

I was waiting for a bus. Stop beside a stretch of dual carriage way, as much a rapid conduit for the icy wind as the traffic. A man wandered past in a cheap, thin fleece jacket, collar turned up to repel the sharp cold. Shiny black shell suit bottoms, stopping short six inches above his ankles. He probably lived here. Mine was a fleeting visit. Less if I had my way. But, at least when it did eventually arrive, the bus’s driver was cheery. Dunkirk spirit.

I’d imagined the place to be what I’d term Corby-by-the-Sea. Which isn’t a complement. Unless, that is, I’m told, you’ve been to Great Yarmouth. I haven’t and don’t plan to. And although I must admit to fairly scant knowledge of Norfolk fishing towns, I was certain my current location had always been popular with overseas visitors. In the 1940’s that’d be the Luftwaffe. There’s been few improvements since.

Inevitably, there’d been the odd claim to fame, dug up by the local council. Almost – well – literally. Another birthplace town. Famous writer of the Victorian era. Inspired, I quickly surmised, to leave. Never to return. Bit of a shame, shortsighted on his part, for he was something of a social commentator. And I thought there to be enough material here for an entire conference. Less generous writers have suggested the place has some of the densest population in the whole of the UK.

It’s not that there’s a shortage of things to do here, a lack of amenities. Plenty of Bingo Halls. A dog track. A hideous pyramid shaped leisure centre drawing in similarly unattractive individuals. Lots of public toilets, always somewhere to discard your sharps. Thoughtful. A wide esplanade popular with joggers, dancing nimbly around the innumerable dog faeces and discarded nappies. And a boating lake. Resplendent with some large plastic swans languishing at their moorings. The sort you could paddle about in if you were that way inclined. I wasn’t.

There’s also a football club. Quite popular by all accounts. Traffic chaos on match days. And frequently in the news, albeit more for the tax affairs of a former manager than their playing ability. Taking its nickname from an ancient Roman city buried under mountains of hot ash. But still no appeal. Or, much to my dismay, no rumbling volcanoes nearby. I’d grown up in Wales. Rugby. As a schoolboy it’d been a miserable affair, but at least it was a game where aggression was confined to the pitch.

A brief burst of Sixties civic pride, and a job lot of concrete, had led to the creation of an especially ugly shopping centre. At the time a much lauded example of Brutalist architecture (no really), it had aesthetic appeal even hardened Soviet era architects might have balked at. I’d tried to imagine it being opened to great fanfare by Miss Corby-by-the-Sea circa 1965. But then gave up. Eventually demolished by mutual consent, its demise had been a squalid, protracted eye sore. The lingering smell of chip grease and stale urine equally unpleasant on the other senses.

I’d tried an early morning dip in the local swimming pool. Squat building, bricks and concrete, that resembled the sort of thing that masked the entrance to a Cold War bunker. Harrowing experience. Reminiscent of scenes from Cocoon. My protestations that closing twenty minutes before the end of each advertised session fell on deaf ears. Probably needed fresh batteries.

The bus trundled on, frequently coming to an abrupt halt as it sought to negotiate parked cars and drifting pedestrians quite oblivious to the traffic. Of which there was always a lot. Along the High Street a fistful of loan shops offering tempting cash and exorbitant interest rates. A luxury bookmakers. Above a doorway a small sign said Samaritans. Together with the off-licences, the not infrequent criminal defence specialists, one of the few growth businesses. Smartest by far was a fast food outlet. Green plastic petal chairs in the window. Lava lamps on the tables would have nicely finished off the homage to the Sixties.

There wasn’t quite the same social and economic contrast between Corby-by-the-Sea and the neighbouring town where I was staying as I’d seen between Corby and public school Oundle. Or the separation. One bordered directly on the other. Discrimination was necessarily a bit more subtle, but there were clues. Dogs. One favoured the pit bull type, the other poodles. Mostly reliant on tattoos to tell mutts from masters. But the clincher was, as ever, supermarkets. Very clear cut. Tesco Extra and Waitrose. Chalk and Cheese. That’d be a farm matured cheddar made from a refined blend of organic milk.

I’d jumped off near a small cafe. Unpretentious, no-nonsense. Chance of a decent brew. Behind the counter a woman of Chinese descent. Rasping voice. Felt I was causing her discomfort as I asked for a small mug. A couple – late fifties I thought – rotund, bald chap and a lady with a sympathetically shaven head were, for a while, the only other customers. Another woman entered as I was packing up my belongings to leave. She was seeking shelter from the insidious damp cold outside. Smart pink jacket. I noticed it because it wasn’t cheap.

Back on a bus once more. Fellow passengers more numerous than before. And mostly wooden. Motionless save for the odd jolt. As if oblivious to life around them. Except for a Polish woman with her two young children. I’d offered her my seat, not because the bus was particularly full, but because I thought it might make it easier for her to supervise her playful charges on the seat in front. She politely declined, but seemed pleased someone had cared to talk to her.

Destination reached, another small cafe to meet up with an old colleague. Transfixed watching wisps of coffee, vapours swirling slowly upwards from my cup, as I waited his arrival. Soon the only customer. Quickly attuned to the conversation behind the counter. Another neat pile of empty music cassettes. Left on the pavement beneath the cafe window.

They must have sensed my interest. It happened, explained one of the women, a few times a week. Nobody ever seem to notice who deposited them. Or could explain why. Perhaps, I suggested, the choice of music might proffer a few clues. What, I asked, had been left this time? She shuffled the cases as you might a pack of cards. A short pause. Then she spoke. Kinks. Country and Western. Country and Western, I quickly responded? Emphatically. Was she sure?

[The author would like to point out that he’s not received any payment from the local Tourist Board to promote Corby-by-the-Sea. Just in case you were wondering… But he is hoping to train a dog to do his tax return for him]

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Fangly things

February 24th, 2012

I’d my new fangly thing. In the shop they’d called it a smartphone. Which struck me as slightly odd. Making calls – actually talking to people – had been relegated to being just another function. Of no greater prominence than social feeds or YouTube. And I’d had to hunt around for it. Believe me. No, what I now had was a personal communicator. Bristling with sharp coloured icons offering messenger services, social media feeds, web browsing, text messaging, e-mail and the like. The Luddites would be up in arms. I’d ring them to let them know you understand. To make them aware. Just as soon as I’ve worked out quite how to.

There’d been two choices for my smartphone. Apple and BlackBerry. Think VHS and Betamax. The cult of Apple had its roots in being different. For the discerning. But now it’d gone mainstream. The iPhone. The iPad. Trade names as a generic label for a genre of new technologies. Nothing new in that of course. Hoover did that quite a while ago, a long-established descriptor for vacuum cleaners. A marketeers dream.

I’d always found Apple products to be largely intuitive. No need to pore over a manual, invariably being left all the more bewildered. And designed with a pleasing simplistic elegance. But I’d returned to a strange new lexicon. Of Apps. Tethering. And I’d a job to do – and to get – so artistic appeal in itself wasn’t enough. I needed a tool not a toy.

So I’d plumped for a BlackBerry. Three reasons. First. Business appeal. Select market. Of the sort Apple used to favour. I’d be confident it wasn’t a play thing. It’d allow me to do what I needed to do without fuss or gimmickry. Even if I wasn’t entirely sure what that was yet. Far better to create a market rather than fill one. My life may be incomplete without an App to simulate coin flipping but I suspect I’ll get around the void. And there’s probably one for that out there somewhere. If you’re GPS enabled.

Second. BlackBerry had a few service issues a little while ago. Which isn’t good for a company heavily reliant on its business customers for its bottom line. So you could be fairly sure the chance of a repeat would be vanishingly small. Creases ironed out. Same reason Northern Rock became the safest place to keep your money the moment the UK Government stepped in. But surely all those customers queuing for hours to withdraw their savings couldn’t be wrong? Actually yes. You’ll find me quite emphatic on this point.

And finally. And this is a point easily overlooked. It’s not aesthetics or ergonomics. Rather, it’s just dull, old-fashioned right tool for the job. Like I say, all terribly boring. In this instance it’s e-mail that ticks boxes for me. Something my ’Berry thingy excels at. Small QWERTY keypad and all in a smart little package to boot. Why buy a spanner when you need a wrench?

But I’d also deeper-rooted concerns about our drift into touch-screens of the sort favoured by the iPhone and iPad. Not the technology per se, but rather its application. Encouraging superficiality. Shades of Fahrenheit 451. A march towards Huxley’s Brave New World. Quick flurry of fingers and you were done. Cursory reading. Minority Report in your hand. There was a social impact that’d not been considered. Other than perhaps by the Amish. They’d never been exactly quick to embrace fangly things, and I’d a good inkling why. I’d have given them a call to clarify you understand…

Perhaps I should form my own cult. Of a fashion. Promoting new fangly things simply as enablers, not ends in themselves. Radical stuff. Maybe add in a bit of pseudo-science. Gives depth and lends it legitimacy. Worked fine for L Ron Hubbard. In the meantime, I’ve some doodling to do in my Filofax. About the size of an iPad. But without the worry of a flat battery.

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Ear wigging

February 23rd, 2012

Small cafe. Bright and cheerful on an otherwise dreary wet street. Very quiet. A motherly lady behind the counter and two young women sat engrossed in discussion. One was Polish. The other was explaining her rights to her. Mostly in English. They’d need to visit the Embassy.

I’d taken a lunch time train out of London. Sat quietly in the front carriage tapping quietly into my netbook. Writing little pieces for the blog. The cycling was over but not yet the journey. Still to conclude the transition back from roads less travelled. Finding my jottings cathartic.

I’d been sent a teasing note a few days earlier. From a good friend. It started with Mr Roberts. Observing that for all my protestations that the blog’d be drawing to a close, there was scant evidence to support this. On the contrary, my efforts suggested I was smitten with the writing bug. And I probably was.

Fascinating what people will openly discuss in railway carriages. Especially if they think someone’s engrossed elsewhere. Not listening. Two people explaining the finer points of revenue generation, future risks, for what they described as prestigious waterfront shopping development. I knew the place but didn’t quite recognise it. Their audience was an investor. Some shrewd questions. They stumbled frequently.

Waiting to disembark at the end of the line, I listened intently to another group. They really should have known better. I smirked knowingly. And deliberately. It was now raining. I headed off to find a decent cafe. They went off towards a small passenger ferry. As I thought they would.

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Living out of a bag

February 23rd, 2012

I’d returned to the hostel dorm after my early morning swim. As curious about the regular crowd that did this sort of thing as I was for the clarity of thought I invariably found in the solace of my lengths. Medicine man was sat cross legged by his bunk, a large array of foil tablet strips spread out neatly in a large arc before him. He nodded. I smiled.

I’d risen early. Little after five thirty. Quietly made my way down to the bathrooms below. At the bottom of the stairs a patch of vomit. Covered with a small strip of toilet paper. Ineffective but at least a little modicum of consideration. Decided I needed a cup of tea. Kick myself into life. I was trying to shun the usual coffee, my staple for the last few years in a world where a decent brew had invariably been as elusive as much of the fauna.

A Japanese student in an oversized black down jacket sat in the otherwise empty cafeteria, illuminated only by the unwelcoming green glow of the escape signs and the harsh light of the television on the wall above his head. Cartoons. I didn’t think he was watching. And thought he’d been there a while. Quite possibly all night. I headed off into the crisp morning air. Collar of my heavy cotton top turned up. Thick gloves on. But no jacket. Wanted to enjoy the refreshing sharpness without being too chilled.

Ten minutes brisk walking. The odd cyclist, dog walker. A few business opening up. Traditional butcher pulling down his old-fashioned awning. Fine cuts in the window. Cafes yet to unstack their chairs. The local swimming pool was council owned but run by some sort of local co-operative. I approved. The mixed changing area felt clinical and smelt strongly of old ladies perfume even though none were to be seen. The sort of odour that lingered.

Lengths done in a lane marked ’Keep it slow’ and then quick scribblings in my pocket book. An abundance of ideas, random thoughts – mostly single words I hoped would be equally meaningful later. I’d had lots to think about and lots to do. Hot shower. Then ready to venture back outside and see what unfurled in the day ahead. I liked plans. Structure. A very logical mind. But now I also found myself intrigued – compelled even – to indulge in uncertainty. Made things a bit more interesting.

Soon strolling purposefully back towards Portland Road and the hostel. Children heading off for school. Closer to the main thoroughfare smarter houses and sharper uniforms. Satchels and wind instruments. I turned by an Estate Agent. The window display alluringly suggested buoyant sales. One family home just sold for a snip over five million. It was detached.

French pâtisserie. I’d had to insist on English Breakfast tea. Not Earl Grey. Too much of a soapy after taste. Smart place. Authentic oak beams in a new setting. Reasonably priced breads. Expensive looking cakes. A young woman sat at the next table. She’d especially frizzy hair and stared intently at an e-book. Most the clientele sought coffee to go. Overly enveloped in scarfs and heavy coats.

Stopped briefly to buy lunch at a local supermarket. The cashier smiled and then croaked a few words. Bit of a sore throat I’d asked? That time of year I’d added. No, she’d replied. Surgery to remove lumps on her throat. And it’d not get better than this. I gulped, nodded and then left. Kensington High Street.

I was heading for the Royal Geographical Society. Next to the equally prestigious Royal Albert Hall. The sort of place where you might easily drag a dead tiger across its well-worn dark wooden floors, Blunderbuss under one arm, Pith helmet under the other. And nobody’d care to mention it.

In one stairwell a collection of photos of Past Presidents. Household names. The odd Admiral. And one chap who closely resembled Lord Lucan. I was hopeful of election to Fellow shortly. But admiration wasn’t my purpose. Sound advice had been that an expedition without a report was called a holiday. And mine had been no beach towels and bathrobes. A few suitable examples from the archives to be studied before I compiled mine in earnest.

Amidst the Society’s large collection of expedition reports I’d stumbled on a couple that intrigued rather than informed. A 1978 project cycling along the banks of the Nile by students from a public school close to where my parents lived. I especially liked the quotation on its cover.

"I would think twice of an Englishman’s view of his neighbour, but would trust implicitly his account of the Upper reaches of the Nile"

I also liked one of their entries in a list of publications they’d featured in. Playboy. No explanation given. Or extract enclosed. Teenage boys. Another report – chance find once more – shed light on how a friend had mostly likely met his wife.

Brief detour on my way back to the hostel. Gentlemen’s Outfitters. Abdul had me quickly measured up. Explained I needed black tie. Prestigious function I’d emphasised, the sort where you’d be wise to consult Debretts before attending. My copy had gone astray so I’d plans to sneak a peak in nearby Waterstones. Winged or classic he’d asked. I’d done formal before but not in this fashion.

Back that night at the hostel I’d sunk into one of the deep sofas in the lounge. The lights were dimmed and the television on. On the next sofa someone with passable facial features for a woman in her late sixties. But the sizeable Adam’s Apple was unmistakable. I christened her Bob. Unspoken of course. Engrossed in University Challenge.

Struggling to read in the gloom I wandered back to the reception area. It was busy, the previous night’s group of French students and their teachers being replaced by another equally large one from across the Channel. But I was able to find somewhere to sit, quickly returning to the relative comfort of Huxley’s Brave New World and oblivion to the orderly chaos around me. I’d still to finish the various prefaces that’d been added over the years before the book proper.

Next day another early start. Just after five. Synapses all fired up. I emerged from the bathroom as Bob entered. Padding around in boxers. Pre-op I presumed. At reception staff were trying to eject a middle-aged man and not for the first time. Ignoring the altercation, I headed off for another swim.

On my way back I’d found Bob nodding to a passing dog walker. The man continued on a few paces then stopped. Turned around slowly and then stared for a few moments. I’d hurried back to the hostel. Packing to be done and the check-out time was getting close.

A short while later, as I strolled across the hostel courtyard, I observed Bob now sat in the cafeteria, engrossed this time in quiet discussion with medical man. Lots of appreciative nods. Time for another railway encounter and some sea air. Soon finding myself grabbing a tea on the train from the trolley. Refreshment whilst I wrote. The attendant – his badge said host – spoke only to tell me the price. Another gravelly voice. Probably used to be a sixty a day man. This time I was silent.

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Postscript

February 19th, 2012

The train from Corby was cancelled. Next one in an hour. Engineering works. I’d miss my connection from Kettering south into London. But had been assured my ticket would be valid on the next available service. I made little effort to hide my scepticism. Large sliding doors meant the waiting area was little warmer than the platform. I breathed deeply, hoped the angst would pass and sat down on the icy metal bench.

Short journey to Kettering. One stop. But enough time to scribble in my diary, to remind myself of the issues I’d need to tackle the next day. Window locks. Letters to post. Tickets to collect. A melancholy collection of tasks. But they had to be done.

The London bound service from Kettering was tired. Dated carriages. Most of the passengers looked forlorn. I’d no idea where they might have started from but imagined it must have been a good distance away. The guard made her way along the aisle, dragging a large plastic bag that she slowly filled with abandoned newspapers and discarded snack wrappers. She returned later to put out reservation tickets for the northbound return.

On the Underground a young man sat flicking back and forth through an exam paper. Quantum Physics. Strange mathematical squiggles. An older man – early thirties – was reading Macbeth. No one spoke. No eye contact. I knew I was home. Making the steady transition back to a less transient existence.

I’d chosen to stop overnight in a central London Youth Hostel, tucked away in a small park but well placed for the next day. In the hostel dormitory a middle-aged man lamented the lack of privacy. Muttered away about the lack of space to stow his luggage. Very tattered. Wondered if he might be homeless rather than a bona fide traveller.

A few days earlier I’d sat in a smart cafe in a small market town a little way from Peterborough. Ordinarily I’d never have ventured in, but half-term meant it was quiet, and suddenly quite appealing. There was a decent sized map of the World on the wall. I’d stared at quite intently. Sketching out my own route in my head. You’d have thought me day dreaming. Rather, I was just beginning to grasp what I’d done. And the gentle realisation I’d never quite view people – and places – in quite the same way ever again. Ever.

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Fade to black

February 19th, 2012

Trusty steed in China

Found myself wondering what’d take the longest. Riding around the world, or reaching my fund-raising target – at least twenty thousand pounds – for The Outward Bound Trust. The cycling part of the challenge might now be complete, but there’s still a long, long way to go.

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In fact, eliciting donations seems far harder than the pedalling – no, not seems – actually it is. You can help of course by making a safe and secure gift to The Trust via my JustGiving page – simply click on the button below. Can’t miss it.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!
What next then? Forgive me, but it’s only been a week or so since I came off the road. No more refrigerator living. So, plans a little fluid, but beginning to comfortably take shape. Enough for me to be able to share a brief flavour at least.
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It’s all about sharing, encouraging others to pursue their own challenges. Getting them to realise they can achieve much more than they think they can. How you may ask? The main-stay will be giving talks about the whole experience – collections of (hopefully) amusing anecdotes rather than dry chronology – if you’d like me to come and provide an evening’s entertainment, do get in touch via my contacts page – click here.
Brown bear - Grizzly - in captivity - near Anchorage, Alaska
I’ve also a small writing commission for a very august charity. Plans to appear at the Royal Geographical Society’s autumn Exploration weekend next to the equally prestigious Royal Albert Hall. Keen to develop the website into a useful resource for fellow long-haul touring cyclists, compiled with an engineer’s eye – as well as my City & Guilds qualification in Bicycle Maintenance, in real life I’m also a Chartered Engineer.

Sleeping under the stars - Gobi desert - China
And a book? Consider me a bit harsh if you must, but I’ve read a good number of travelogues and the sort, and vanishingly few meet the Gold Standard – that of wider public appeal. Beyond family, friends and devoted cycling fans, or whatever else the mode of transport might be the author used. And a book isn’t a blog. A very different beast. A significant undertaking.
Chinese truck stop - Western China
True, I’ve got the notes for a book – almost 1,800 posts for starters – but no illusion about the sheer amount of effort required to even have a chance of producing something I’d be content to put my name to. And it’d have to offer something different to the many passe accounts out there. Fill a gap in the market. And, much to my own surprise, I’ve an inkling of an idea.. something where the precursor is to have ridden around the world. Which narrows the competition just a bit…
Azerbaijan border sign - in Republic of Georgia
Futuristic musings aside, I’m hoping to appear on 10Radio’s Friday morning Community Show on 9 March 2012. Discussing the transition back to a more conventional existence, as well as touching on what I’ve learnt. And I’ve an idea presenter Pauline won’t let me out of the studio without checking out my legs… All in the best possible taste. More details to follow closer to the show.
Sunset at Deadmans Lake, Alaska
Oh yes, and contrary to the advice from the then Employment Secretary Norman Tebbit back in the 1980’s, I’m getting off my bicycle to find work… But for now at least, time to bring the daily blog posts to a close. It’s been great fun, and I’ve certainly enjoyed the writing – do hope the various stories have been as much fun to read!

So, thank-you for all your love and support

Yours appreciatively

Ken, and his trusty two-wheeled steed Emma

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Almost forgot…

February 18th, 2012

And almost 1,800 blog posts, 2,000 photos and 700 videos…

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Final flurry of statistics

February 18th, 2012

Miles ridden Almost 20,000 (about 30,000 kilometres) – so, by any measure, quite a long way…!

Revolutions (of the wheels) Sixteen million

Continents Four – Europe, Asia, Australia, North America

Countries 17

Border crossings 31

Visas 10

US States 12 (including night in Hawaii – no time to surf!)

Coldest -15 oC in New Mexico

Hottest Forties in Kazakhstan and China’s Gobi desert

Cyclones One – Yasi – Northern Australia

Highest point Over 8,000 feet – Emory Pass – New Mexico

Lowest point Turpan – pronounced Turvan – Basin, Western China – below sea level

Favourite nations New Zealand, North America, Serbia, Georgia (also the friendliest)

Most expensive country Australia (cost of living about 2-3 times that of the UK)

Cheapest countries China and the Republic of Georgia

Most corrupt nation – Azerbaijan – if you don’t pay a bribe you’d never leave. Ever.

Detentions by border guards 2 – Kazakhstan (shorter of the two!) and Australia

Uprisings (just missed) Bishkek, Capital of Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan, and sporadic (unreported) ethnic civil unrest in Western China

Toughest challenges Loneliness – especially in China – and tropical humidity in Northern Australia

Lowest point Few hours after drinking kumus – fermented mare’s milk

Most bizarre moment Tearing around Republic of Georgia in a police car (sightseeing courtesy of a local Mayor!)

Most used words Nee-how – Hello! – and Sh-e, Sh-e, nee – Thank-you – in Mandarin

Least heard expressions Have a nice day! (in US – rarely said) and It’s free! (in (expensive) Australia – rarely heard)

Favourite foods Stack of pancakes with maple syrup – US – and stuffed dumplings – China

Favourite places Camping amongst wild bears in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon, and nights spent in Chinese truck stops – for less than 20 yuan – about two pounds

Bikes Just one – my trusty Somerset built two-wheeled steed

Punctures 10 – with just one in whole of North America

Spokes broken or loosened – not a single one, and wheels still look pretty true

Most elusive wildlife Wild bears in North America – saw just one cub – and deadly snakes in Australia – two in the wild

Most common wildlife Wallabies – like a kangaroo but smaller – in Australia

[With especial thanks to Tim for the encouragement to compile these…]

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Brave New World

February 18th, 2012

Peanut butter rolls and black coffee. Feeling quite famished, quickly digging in. I’d gone for a walk on the hills above nearby Wiveliscombe with Jon. Cool February afternoon, but not the chill of the previous few days. Thick red loam binding to our boots. We chatted a good deal about what lay ahead. Our progress frequently interrupted by my stops simply to observe, to grasp what it was to be back in Somerset.

I’d slept well. The previous day – the return home – had been intense. But it did seem to have gone remarkable well. I was quietly pleased but quite exhausted by the evening. In the morning I’d pottered about. Tidying up some loose ends. Reassuring my generous hosts I was doing only what needed to be done. Copy deadlines, that sort of thing. Nothing more. Not today.

Found myself reflecting on what exactly I’d learnt over the last few years. Much harder than I’d imagined. So many levels. Simple observations. Deep self-analysis. The perils of a logical mind. Complex. Some lessons presenting themselves with absolute clarity. And simplicity. 99.99% of people I’d met were just good, honest, hard-working individuals who wanted to get on with life, put food on the table. Invariably very generous.

Dig deeper. More intangible lessons but no less important. Individual freedoms. Of expression, to peaceful protest, to follow your chosen religion or political beliefs. Boundaries of course, as must befit a tolerant, inclusive society. But absent, or at least severely constrained, in many countries. China for example. Immensely hospitable people, yet a de facto police state. Which, ironically, usually makes it a very safe place for foreigners to visit.

Deeper still. A very personal level. Trite it might sound. But true. The world does indeed seem a much smaller place. Finding myself viewing a map of the world as others might the one for the London Underground. I’d only met one person on my travels who’d shared this perspective. Neil, who’d previously ridden from New Zealand back to his native Ireland.

Pauline was keen to have me appear on her Friday morning Community Show on 10Radio in a month or so. Chat about what I’d learnt, observed. The transition back to more conventional living. A few mental notes. The dilemma of choice. Illogicality. Corruption. Languages. Migration. There’d be more. Lots more I was sure.

Wiveliscombe was now once again close by. Jon and I lamented the ending of our monthly chats on local community radio station 10Radio. They’d been great fun. A new experience for both of us. With less than an hour of daylight left, we strolled back into the small town. Bit gloomy I thought. Not quite dark enough for the warming, reassuring glow of lights shining out from within people’s homes. The centre seemed familiar enough. Small supermarket. Community library. Newsagents. We headed for the car park.

Noticed a small window at the rear of a pub had been made into a pizza and burger outlet. A saloon car with spoiler on the boot was parked next to it. A man in a baseball cap stood next to it. Watching us. Was the place new, I’d asked Jon? Yes, he said. We stared at it briefly. The man stared back. Aldous Huxley has little to worry about.

[With especial thanks to neighbours and good friends Jon and Helen for their immensely generous hospitality]

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Poetic welcome

February 17th, 2012

We had a visit ’round this time

From Ken from Outward Bound,

Who’s cycling up and down the World

Raising money as he goes around.

Four years he thinks he’ll pedal on

Through all the types of weather,

Meeting people everywhere

We think he is quite clever!

If I’d had sense I’d have retired to bed several hours before I actually did. But I was too tired for that. Besides I wanted to chat. Even if I found myself frequently loosing the thread of the conversation. Ever decreasing lucidity.

Earlier, interviews finally completed, photos taken and cake cut, I’d joined my Mum and Dad for afternoon tea with friends in the village. Then a hasty rummage in my panniers, extracting things I’d need for the next few days before loading my trusty steed into the back of my parents car. They’d be taking her back to their garage for safe keeping. I’d follow in a few days.

I’d a plan to spend a couple of nights staying with my neighbours, my own cottage still rented out. If I’d felt at all weary after such an intense day, the rush of emotion as I’d stepped inside their home pushed it quickly aside. For a while at least. Tantalising aromas from the kitchen beyond. Soft heat from the woodstove. Tea in the pot.

A few items of post that’d turned up in my own cottage next door. Amongst them a Christmas card from the Shapland family. I’d stayed with them out near Brisbane. Inside a newsletter with a twist. A poem. Twenty eight carefully crafted verses. Wonderful.

[Quotation above courtesy of the Shapland family – Mike, Mandy and Felicity – with whom I’d stayed back in Brisbane, Australia. And especial thanks to neighbours Jon and Helen, and Sue and Roger, for their generous hospitality]

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