Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Cold snap

February 16th, 2012

Ken returns to BBC Somerset’s Taunton studio, over two years since he popped in before setting off around the World…

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Dropping in

February 16th, 2012

"A travel moon gives your life an exciting international flavour" – today’s horoscope

I’d been a bright but utterly bitter start to the final day on the road. Sharp rather than merely crisp. Buried deep inside heavy winter gloves, the tips of my fingers had throbbed. The rear brake cable had frozen solid, forcing me to have to disconnect it. Moisture ingress from yesterday. Even the higher hub gears felt sluggish.

I’d stopped short in Bridgwater the previous night. Fading light and a busy road. It’d left me about thirteen miles or so to reach BBC Somerset’s Taunton studio the next morning, but I was confident I could manage that without too much drama. Much safer in daylight.

Winding through the still quiet streets of Taunton, I’d stumbled on my local MP. He’d come to wave me off when I’d set out from Fitzhead. But now a Minister of State, I knew he’d business to attend to out of the constituency and wouldn’t be able to welcome me back. Hopeful we’d catch up later.

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9.20am. Outside the studio. I’d just over an hour before joining Emma Britton on air for her Saturday morning Somerset Live show. Intern Rob let me in. We chatted for a while. He’d cycled in as well. Then greeted with a big hug from presenter Emma before she dashed off to make a few last minute adjustments to the running order.

Getting my fully-laden trusty steed into the small studio had been tricky. But worth it. Nice to know these sort of things weren’t staged, mere artistic license. And I’d remembered to switch off my phone moments before wheeling her in. Close call.

Facts from my travels replaced the usual quirky questions for the show’s guests. I felt at ease. Pleased I’d the chance to recount my favourite anecdote. Trials and tribulations of partaking of kumus – fermented mare’s milk – in Kazakhstan. Adding I’d simply no idea you could even milk a horse. Emma almost choking with laughter.

The parting question had been about regrets. Had there been any? No. I’d said. Quite robustly. Although entirely correct, I’d kicked myself a little later. Far wittier response would have been along the lines of …just one… never quite managed to explain pantomime to foreigners… Never mind.

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Getting close…

February 11th, 2012

Getting close to my home village of Fitzhead. Two and a half years – 892 days – since I rode out, bound for the port of Plymouth and a sailing to France. About twenty miles or so left. Nippy outside. Hard for my brain to compute this – and it is pretty logical!

The blog will conclude over the next few days. Hoping to add photos and videos from my return. Together with a couple of stories from the last days on the road. And a few pieces on lessons learnt, some amusing statistics, and details of what happens next…

In the meantime, whilst the cycling may soon be over, the fund-raising certainly isn’t – still a long way to go with that. So please do consider making a donation to The Outward Bound Trust – simply click on the Donate link above, or the button on my home page. It’d be hugely appreciated.

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Brief respite

February 7th, 2012

"Have more than thou showest, speak less than thou knowest, lend less than thou owest" King Lear Act I Scene 4

Back out in the courtyard it was bitter. Much colder than when I’d wandered into the pub an hour or so earlier. There’d been clues. Most of the clientele in the back bar had kept their woolly hats on. And the publican had lit the open fire in the Saloon. Shakespeare Inn in Harbury. I’d gone in for two reasons. I liked the name. And it was open. Suppose the weather was a third.

Inside was simple. Unfussy but welcoming. A few Shakespearian quotations neatly painted on the walls and some of the exposed wooden beams. I liked the one from Twelfth Night about Greatness but couldn’t bring myself to jot it down in my pocket book. Too pretentious. Coffee and a sandwich. They had ham or cheese but I wanted both together. How much I’d asked. Same price had been the word from the kitchen.

Finding myself a seat by the window I’d stared at the simple comings and goings in the main street outside. I’d missed England. I liked the ordinariness. Comforting familiarity. Old ladies with their little wheeled shopping trolleys. I’d scribbled carts in my notebook before realising it wasn’t an English expression. Struggling a bit to expunge overly familiar foreign terms. Cell. Gas Station. There was also a radiator.

It was, said the BBC, going to be the coldest night in Britain. Since the last time they’d said it. At least the roads were clear. Nothing to freeze. More worrying was the forecast for the latter part of the week. Snow. Hoping that by sticking to main roads I’d be able to reach Taunton on Friday without too much difficulty. But Saturday’s final few miles along the lanes out to Fitzhead. Could be tricky.

A short run from Harbury in the afternoon – ten miles at the most – and I’d finally made it to Stratford-upon-Avon Youth Hostel. It was actually in nearby Alverston. Short day in any case, no more than thirty miles in total, but it put me in a good position for the morning. I liked the place immediately. Imposing country house. Friendly staff. Breakfast cooked to order and irresistible bar snacks. Cumberland Ale. Tempting.

Few other guests. A young woman enquiring as to whether there’d be any annoying young children staying. I’d chipped in to say I’d be gone in the morning. Nia. She’d spelt it. Visiting from Malaysia but originally from China. I’d guessed the name she offered was a fictitious English one. She seemed pleasantly surprised I knew of such things. Small group of friends in the games room whose vocabulary sounded as limited as my Mandarin. Dominated by a tom-boy with a very masculine haircut. Her assertiveness, I thought, masking some deep insecurities.

West of the previous night’s stop in Daventry the fog had eventually lifted. Steady riding into Southam. There was a cafe in the town centre. Flashing neon sign close up against the steamed up windows. But nowhere I could leave my trusty steed safely in view. A woman had suggested I try a place next to the Balti house. Blue sign she said. It didn’t sound promising so I’d left. Decided to try my luck in one of the villages ahead. Harbury it turned out.

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Somerset connections

June 5th, 2011

They were off to Taunton in a few weeks. About ten miles from my Somerset cottage. Janet and Max. Had heard of my village. Even visited. Chance meeting in a camp kitchen. I’d wandered in for the usual evening recce. Power point for the netbook. Kettle or microwave for refreshments and breakfast the next day. They were with friends. Enjoying Friday night nibbles. Gathering at the site to celebrate Roz’s birthday the next evening.

Somerset sign

And, I gathered, we were actually in Somerset. Queensland. I’d seen Lake Somerset on the map. North west of Brisbane. And my final destination in Australia would be the town of Somerset on the island of Tasmania. But no idea there was a region of the same name. Until I stumbled across a sign at the side of the road. The previous day.

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