Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Another winner..

August 28th, 2011

marsupials

And the winner is…. Mike Harcup. Soon to be the proud owner of Wallace the Wallaby after leaving the wittiest comment with his donation to The Outward Bound Trust:

"Wallace says that after Skippy saw the Doctor the advice was that Skippy could go blind due to his habit so I had to buy him a pair of boxing gloves"

Mike’s a regular correspondent and, thanks to his sharp wit and eye for detail, a frequent contributor, albeit indirectly, to the website. And I have to confess his comment had me thinking. Can’t really ride with boxing gloves on so best I stop picking my nose…. And you were thinking of Captain Pugwash…

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In the news…

August 27th, 2011

Cycling Plus September issue 253 Ken Roberts feature

Article from a recent edition of the UK’s Cycling Plus magazine. I’ll let you guess what "bad house guest" means. Whilst I drop a line to fellow cyclist Myles to let him know he’s got a mention in dispatches!

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Brief encounter

February 27th, 2011

Scrubs up well. Not my words exactly. Rather those of breakfast radio presenter Mike "Locco" O’Loughlin. Describing Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. On air. With her. Aussies bit less deferential than might be the case in Blighty. I mean, could you imagine a British broadcaster mentioning something similar to, say, Ann Widdecombe?

Bligh - web

I’d come along to Queensland’s 4CA Talk Radio to chat with "Locco". My slot delayed a little by the chance appearance of the Premier. Whatever her politics, I’d a huge admiration for the leadership she’s shown during the various natural disasters that have beset Queensland of late. And a great choice of warm-up act. I was chuffed.

Always difficult to judge your own interview. As ever, completely cuffed. No idea exactly what’ll come up. Reliant on my Official Audience – my Mum and Dad – for feedback. Faith in their frankness. Thumbs up. Enjoyed teasing "Locco" about the drizzle outside – in truth, record Monsoon rains. And he’s a fellow cyclist. Chatting off air with him about his own experiences of riding along the banks of the River Danube. The route I’d followed across Europe.

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Perfect medium

February 23rd, 2011

Fair to say I do like to chat. Once had a few stitches on my lip. Silenced for two whole days. Traumatic. Those around me seemed to take it pretty well. Very understanding. But now I’d been presented with the perfect medium. Talk radio. Surely it was Christmas…

radio - web

I’ve been invited to appear live on Mike "Locco" O’loughlin’s morning show at 4CA AM 846. Irresistible. Simply couldn’t say no. Another new experience. Besides, Locco has done some long-distance rides himself. So you can bet he’ll ask just how comfortable the saddle really is..

You can listen live online – from 10 pm UK time Thursday 25 February – at www.4cafm.com.au.

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Trouble with telephones

February 14th, 2011

What’s easiest in Australia? Hunt down wild crocodiles at night or find a landline so you can take a call from BBC Somerset’s The Morning Show with Emma Britton? Found eight of the predators the previous evening. Eventually secured one line with a few hours to go. Not easy when you’re a traveller in a nation of mobiles. Key, I’d discovered, is to find a friendly international hotel chain and ask nicely. Explain your predicament.

I’d been quite determined to chat once more to Emma. Refused to believe I couldn’t secure a landline and make it happen. Not in Australia. Besides, rather look forward to the interviews. Feel rather honoured to be allowed to do them live. Trusted, presumably, not to say naughty words or commit other embarrassing faux pax. Not too many ums and arhs. I hope.

And, just in case you’re wondering, I’ve no idea what exactly I’ll be asked on air. Might have a few guesses, but nothing more. All part of the fun. Another challenge on the road. This time intrigued – and absolutely delighted – to hear my own voice in the introduction. Taken from a video clip shot during the height of Cyclone Yasi and posted on the website.

You can listen to the interview courtesy of the BBC iPlayer – just click here – the segment airs about one hour into the St Valentines Day show. Ends with a great Crowded House track.

Right. That’s the easy bit done. Waiting – with anticipation and trepidation in equal measure – for some honest, constructive feedback from an online audience close to my heart. Suffice to say, it might have been my forty #*^ birthday on the day of Cyclone Yasi. But what my parents think still matters as much to me as it ever did!

[Author’s note: Especial thanks of course to Emma Britton and the team at BBC Somerset. And to duty managers Ben, Valentine and Wiremu at Mercure Cairns Harbourside hotel for being so helpful to a perfect stranger and letting me use their landline. Even finding a quiet room to hide away in. The interview with Emma airs between 1hr 03 mins 20 secs and 1hr 11 mins 30 secs into the show. Available on the iPlayer until 21 Feb 11. Please note Ken isn’t responsible for the content of external websites]

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Our man in Cairns

February 4th, 2011

I’d become our man in Cairns. Actually, BBC Somerset’s. Couple of radio interviews. Live. Always good for the adrenaline. Not that I’d be running low on it for a while. Courtesy Cyclone Yasi.

You can catch up on the interviews via the BBC Somerset iPlayer – simply click on the link. The first was broadcast around 9.30 am Wednesday 2 February on The Morning Show with Emma Britton. And the second went out around 4.10 pm the same day on the evening drive time show.

Times are a bit approximate – combination of my own slightly suspect recollections, confusion caused by time zones, and a lack of sleep. And I’ve no actual web access at the moment to check them out. Happy hunting!

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Dawn to dusk

December 23rd, 2010

Sunrise - web

First light. On the road. The final push towards Hong Kong. Penultimate day. Thumbs up from a few early morning joggers. Bit between my teeth. Focused riding. Paced, steady. Achilles stable. Sweeping south. The chill early morning air soon replaced with a pleasant warmth.

A late morning stop drew a man and a young boy out of their house. Grandson I thought. They were curious. A cup of hot green tea appeared. And then a bank note. German. 1922. 100,000 Marks. By all accounts almost worthless. How the family came to have it in their possession I couldn’t fathom. Not as if the Germans had invaded. They’d left that to the Japanese.

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Tight grip in Cantonese country

December 22nd, 2010

Passport or pillion? House rule. Never hand over my papers to anyone. No discussion. No exceptions. So, onto the back of the motorcycle it was. Off across town in search of a photocopier with a young chap from my lodgings. A copy of my passport required for the obligatory aliens registration with local Police.

Problem was I’d never actually ridden pillion before. Not entirely sure what to do. Other than not fall off. Might smart a bit. Even on 125cc machine. Feet were fine. Found some handy footrests. Decided against bear hugging the rider. Didn’t seem quite right. Opting instead for a convenient metal frame I’d found behind the seat. Gripping tightly as we weaved through the early evening traffic.

Road - web

I’d spent the day continuing the push south to Hong Kong. Through what I hoped would be the last of the mountains. Some stiff climbs and exhilarating descents. And a noticeable change in climate. Pleasant. Warm but without the energy sapping high humidity I’d half expected.

Doorway - web

Other changes. Pastel coloured homes, soft shades of brown. Doorways leading into a central courtyard. Easier on the eye than the harsher red bricks of earlier. This was also Cantonese country. Not the Mandarin I was more familiar with, although I’d been assured that I’d be able to get by with my usual nihows and sh-eshe-knees. Which seemed to be the case so far. Or at least, people I met looked no more bemused than normal…

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Catching up…

December 20th, 2010

Deciphering dialing codes. Devising a few phonetic phrases in Mandarin. After all, what would she say when she’d ring through to the place I was staying? I’d primed the staff at the small hotel that I was expecting a call from the UK. Actually, I’d written on a scrap of paper – in Chinese characters – "2200 tonight – Emma Britton – telephone – Ken Roberts – Room 7017" – except our names. Far too difficult.

Bit rudimentary. But it worked. Probably helped by the fact that I’d be the only Westerner in town. Literally. A chance to catch up with Emma, host of BBC Somerset’s The Morning Show. It’d been over a year since we’d spoken. That’d been back in Taunton. Shortly before I’d set off. Amongst the things I’d taken along to the studio was a Christmas Pudding, my luxury item for devouring in Bulgaria. Long gone. But there was a Christmas Cake or two waiting in Hong Kong….

[To the surprise of many of his friends, Ken hates the sound of his own voice. And late-night – in China – radio interviews probably don’t find him at his best. But if you’re snowed in (and even if you’re not!) – and chances are you will be if you’re in the UK Europe – you could always listen to Emma’s show on the BBC iPlayer. 0900-1200 week days. White stuff permitting, the piece should be going out on air in the second half of the programme on Tuesday 21 December 2010. To listen live, or catch up a bit later, click on BBC Somerset iPlayer]

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Loneliness of the long-distance cyclist

July 22nd, 2010

“Alone he rides, alone” Lionel Johnson 1867-1902

Language difficulties, punctures, the odd minor ailment, these are all problems you expect on the road. They’re solvable, sometimes with a bit of ingenuity, some lateral thinking. You just get on with them. But then there’s loneliness. Never far away, lurking, waiting for the moment to reappear, catching the solo traveller unaware.

You may be in the most beautiful of places, surrounded by the most kind, generous and hospitable people. And still be immensely lonely. But is it such a terrible thing? I find myself reflecting on what I’ve left behind to spend four years venturing on a bicycle around the world. Family. Friends. A green, lush land, cosy, comfortable, familiar. A reassuringly simple world. Truly beginning to appreciate what I have to return to.

But then the insidious self-doubt, sometimes destructive thoughts. Gnawing away at one’s self-confidence. The perils of an idle mind. You tell yourself this will pass, you know it will, just a squall. And yet it seems quickly entrenched, unwilling to budge, like a parasite growing stronger as it saps your own strength. Pedals seem harder to push. Colours ebb away. Sounds fade.

You learn to cope. Because you have to. Sometimes the very things you might think would exacerbate the situation help push it back into the shadows. News from home, the smallest of tidbits, mere morsels. An e-mail from friends, however brief. The anonymous ticking over of the website visiter counter, knowing that someone, somewhere is thinking about you, however fleetingly. Family photographs, of growing nieces, celebrations, simple gatherings.

And keep the grey matter occupied. On the road. In the tent. Every waking moment. Leave no room for loneliness to creep in, to gain a foothold. So hard to dislodge. Listening to music, composing the next blog post, plans for the next few days. Just doing stuff. Enough, but not excess or else you overwhelm yourself, making yourself vulnerable to another episode.

Writing about, talking about, discussing it is very cathartic. It’s not an affliction, an unspoken evil, simply a natural consequence of travelling alone through an environment where communication with others is difficult, either because there are few people or a language barrier. Not surprising. Humans are, after all, a social creature. Nothing to be embarrassed about.

Being amongst other people, even if conversation is limited to just a few words, can make a good deal of difference. The merest of social interaction, a simple smile, a warm handshake, just a nod. A little kindness towards strangers. It all helps.

But most of all, interaction with native English speakers, or those who understand the real nuances of the language, of Western culture, the unspoken subtleties. A real craving, seeking out Western style cafes in the cities, the odd ex-pat bar, or simply staying with those working overseas. Australians, Americans, Brits, it doesn’t really matter. No longer alone. Just for a moment.

[Originally written and recorded for 10Radio – Community Radio for the 10 Parishes in Somerset – www.10radio.org. You can drop Ken an e-mail via the ’Contact’ page on his website www.acrosscontinents.org – he’d love to hear from you]

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