A bicycle love affair

When I was in secondary school, my parents drove me to our nearest Decathlon store in France to get a bicycle of my own. I don’t remember how old I was, I don’t remember what I was wearing, and I don’t remember who exactly who was with me, but I do remember the bicycle. It was dark blue with yellow brakes and ‘Decathlon’ written in big letters across the frame. I couldn’t touch the floor of the shop when I tried it on. But I loved it. It was to be my bicycle. Even though I was too short for it, my parents bought it. The idea was I would grow into it and wouldn’t need another bike for a long time. They were right. The next bike that came into my ownership was bought from my own money as a grown-up with a proper job.

Now modified by my uncle for work in the fields of northern France

I did everything and went everywhere with that first steed. I knew nothing of bicycles. I couldn’t fix a puncture or even tighten a screw. So by the time I was 19, the handlebars were loose, the saddle was wobbly, and the brakes near unusable. But it worked. It took me from A to B. It wasn’t particularly safe but I knew the bicycle so intimately that it didn’t matter. I trusted it.

Then I moved to the UK and became an au pair. The family let me use one of their bikes but I hated it. So I remained on foot that year. But then, I got a job and began saving for a new ride. Little by little and with the help of birthday and Christmas money I purchased my first bicycle as an adult. It was a Brompton folding bicycle. It had a black body and white extremities . I couldn’t afford something that didn’t fold. I just didn’t have the room and my living/working situation almost demanded that I ride  folding. I took it everywhere, and like my previous bicycle, I didn’t care if it wasn’t fit for purpose. It took me to work, it took me to the shops, it even took me to Scotland.

I still didn’t know much about bicycles. I couldn’t fix a puncture (but I learned to tighten screws). But that didn’t matter. I could still get from A to B. That is until I got a puncture and spent an entire afternoon learning how to fix it with the help of YouTube.

Life changed again and I fancied a full-sized bicycle. I didn’t have a lot of cash to expand and just wanted something fun to ride. So I walked in a second-hand shop and bought a gorgeous dark blue Dawes Londoner. It only had one speed but that suited me fine. As I gained confidence in the streets of London, I kept the folding bicycle in the cupboard more and more and wheezed around in the capital on this new steed. It even took me to Cambridge once.

By then, the touring bug seriously got hold of me, and while I loved my Brompton, I wanted something more suited to the task. So I began to save, hatched a plan to explore Portugal from my saddle, and eventually bought a sky blue Oxford Bike Works. By this time I knew how to fix a puncture and how to change brake pads (in theory). And these were all the skills I needed to feel confident to set off in the Iberian Peninsula for four months. This bike has truly taken me places. It has taken me from A to B, but mostly it has enabled to be get lost and travel with no destination in mind. I trust this bike so intimately, it’s like an extension of my body when I get on it. And while it’s a delight to ride, it’s also very heavy. And today I fancy something lighter to nip into work, something easier to carry for day rides and week-ends microadventures. None of my bikes can give me that, so it was time to get a new one.

My single speed put up for sale, and with money from my birthday, Christmas, and job, I started to look around and found a red, white, and yellow old school Graham Weigh bicycle at a local second-hand shop. I hopped on it for a test ride and fell in love. My feet couldn’t touch the ground and my body was falling forward but I knew it was the bike I was after. I tweaked the saddle and stem, and it was perfect. I swapped saddle, I got new bar tape, I changed pedals, and there it is. A new bicycle. One that will stay with me for years to come. And this time I know how to fix a puncture, I know how to change the brakes (in practice), I know how to tighten bolts, and I even know about pedals, bottom brackets, chain, brake levers, bar tape, saddle, panniers, racks, tyres, inner tubes, and more. I still don’t know much about gears other than they can make you life easy or hard. But then, it doesn’t matter. I’ve lived this long without knowing about it, I can spend a few more years blissfully ignorant.

I haven’t ridden many miles on it yet and I don’t have the luggage I want for light touring, but that will come in time. The days are getting longer and I’m hatching plans. There’s a whole lot of Somerset I haven’t explored, most of Wales and a huge chunk of the Cotswolds I’ve never seen. But that will soon be rectified.

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Open your ears – Muddy footpath

We photograph the world and our experiences, we shape them into words, but we don’t listen to them. And yet, hearing is one sense we cannot fully block out (not unless we go to great length). It’s there, passive most of the time, and I want to change that.

I listen. And I want you to listen too.

So I created, Open your ears, a series of simple videos: a minute long, basic editing, and sound.

One video at a time, one minute at a time, I want you to pause, open your ears, and listen.

New videos go live on my YouTube channel every other Wednesday.

New videos go live on my YouTube channel every other Wednesday. I share them on the blog the following day. Be sure to subscribe to my channel to be the first to listen.

A review of my 2017 goals + Looking at 2018

2017 – A year split in half

There was the time between January to June when everything was going well with my goals. I was on track with my European Portuguese learning. I had stopped taking a photo everyday but this was fine. I had stopped recording a sound everyday but this was fine too.

I was exploring the areas around my new home. I was reading a book by a Portuguese author every month. I was spending time on my longboard and learning a few dance steps. I didn’t think I was going to go on a microadventure on it. I wasn’t going to walk the West Highland Way. And I wasn’t going to set up a new blog either but this was all fine.

I was happy with my goals. I was happy with my new life in Bristol.

But then came July and all my plans got shuffled.
I was invited by Bivouac Recordings and Humandhood Recordings to produce albums for them. This was fantastic news, one I could hardly believe. I agreed and got to work. I knew I would have less free time, but I didn’t realise just how much of it would be engulfed by this audio work. And as a result everything else came to a halt.

I lost the discipline of learning a new language. I went exploring less and paid the usual price for it (exhaustion, mental drain, physical restlessness). I stopped reading Portuguese authors (I stopped reading quite a lot actually). And I gave up completely on a longboarding microadventure. I could look at this as a failure but it isn’t. It was fantastic to explore the audio world and to interact with many more people in it. It was an opportunity too good to pass and it was a great learning experience.

I learned that I can do more than I think I can. But I also learned that two albums in six months is too much. I enjoyed the creative process but I did not enjoy the loss of outdoor time. This made my life unbalanced and found me pushed to my limits, which wasn’t a good thing. A lesson I’ll strive to remember for 2018.

2018 – A year of being rubbish

I do not normally share my goals for the year ahead this early, but I’ve been thinking about what I want to accomplish in 2018 for a good month already. And most of it, I do not want to share publicly.

There is a school of thoughts that urges people to share their goals to make sure they accomplish them. The idea is that by voicing your intention publicly, you are held accountable and so more likely to reach your goals. And I tend to agree with this. But not this year, not for what I want to do.

2017 was a year of change. In 2016 I had left behind my dream job, accepting the fact that it is lost to me (for the foreseeable future). Instead I had gone cycle touring for a few months because I could. Upon coming back I tried to find a new direction in my life (and failed). But I did relocate to Bristol (which was good). Freshly moved into a new city, I began to find my feet and the life I was (and still am) seeking.

And now, a year later, I am more grounded. I can’t say I have found a new direction for me life, not entirely. But I have leads, paths I want to explore. Only they feel too personal, too tentative to be shared. I don’t know if they will be dead ends or endless networks. All I know is that I have a lot to learn, and that means being rubbish. I’m setting foot in unexplored territory, places where I have little knowledge and little experience. This is exhilarating, a blank slate all to myself.

I have to serve my apprenticeship. And this means that plans and ideas that I have now will change. All that is certain is that I have a direction, an aim for the future, and 2018 is the year I set the stepping-stones for it.

2017 – A retrospective in words and photos

2017 has been an incredible year. It’s been hard, it’s been exhausting, but it’s also been very rewarding and taught me a thing or two. It was a year of discovering new places, making new friends, and setting up a new life in Bristol. It has been a good year.

I’ve made a little video about (although not all of it features in it).

As for how I fared with my goals for the year… well that will have to wait for another post (published tomorrow).

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The day before Christmas

Where do you want to go? I texted my friend in mid-December. We’d arrange to meet up for a day ride on Christmas Eve, one of the only days when our calendar aligned and gave us both a day off.
Let’s go to Monmouth.
Sounds like a good plan.
And nothing more was said on the matter until the 23rd of December when I realised we didn’t have a route ready. I grabbed my phone and began texting. Do you have a route in mind for tomorrow?
The answer was no. I quickly hopped on Google Maps and Sustrans and perused our options. There were a few possibilities, all of which had escape routes in case the roads grew too busy to our liking. I closed the maps and went on with my day.

My alarm rang on the 24th and I briefly wondered why I was doing this. It had been over a week since I last woke up without the sound of my phone instructing me night was over. Blurry eyed and half asleep, I put on some clothes, prepared breakfast, and went out of the house, all my movements well honed by habits.

As I pushed the pedals and wheeled myself away from the drive, I felt my eyes open and a smile rise on my face. I forgot about the alarm clock and let the hill carry me down.

In no time I was at the train station where we had agreed to meet. I was early, having completely misjudged how long it was going to take me to get there. I sat on a bench and waited, listening to the shrill call of gulls. I had missed it. I use to cycle almost daily along a stretch of the Avon river where the gulls mingle and dance. But now the path is closed and I barely see the gulls any more. My eyes darted from one to another. They looked happy enough.

My friend arrived, taking me out of my reverie. We chatted for a few minutes. I disclosed the options of route for the day, and without much care we cycled away from the city centre. The route was known to both of us. We’d cycled it before and it was easy to follow Sustrans’ signs out-of-town. We pedalled side by side, talking about this and that, conversations stopped because of traffic, only to be picked up where we’d left off as the roads became ours again.

We weren’t paying too much attention to the road and missed a turn. It didn’t matter, we weren’t racing. Back on track we soon escaped the city for the neighbouring suburbs. Other cyclists passed us by, everyone waving, smiling, and full of Merry Christmas. It was good to be on the bike.

We encountered a collection of signs where cycle routes divided and decided to follow the quickest one to the Severn bridge. I could see it in the distance and pushed a little harder on the pedals, eager to cross the river to Wales.

Photo by my friend

We cycled on and the bridge began to disappear from sight. The road was unfamiliar, our previous foray into Wales having been via the longer route to the bridge. Since neither of us have a cycling computer we couldn’t say how long we’d been cycling since the sign to the bridge, but it felt like it’d been too long.

‘Do you recognise this route,’ I asked, knowing that my friends had cycled to Wales more than I have.
‘No.’
‘I think we missed a turning and are now going to Gloucester.’
We stopped and checked our phones. The bridge was south of the blue dot on Google Maps.
‘Let’s go to Gloucester then.’

We jumped back onto the saddle and followed the road ahead. It was easy to change decision. Monmouth had after all been an arbitrary choice of destination. All we wanted was a ride and we were getting one. Free of worry, we carried on, guided by Sustrans peppered signs in the countryside. Some of them were peeling of, others had faded completely and we took a few wrong turns as a result. It still didn’t matter.

We kept chatting about projects finished, projects to come, plans for the new year, features of the landscape, and this and that. The weather was grey over our heads but sometimes a break in the clouds would bring a spot of blue sky, a reminder that beneath the clouds, lay the promise of sunshine.

‘Bristol!’ I pointed ahead to the sign visible in the break between hedges. ‘Bristol, A38.’ I added as the sign became more visible.
We paused in front of the four lane road. We had clearly taken another wrong turn. Looking at our phone, Gloucester was still a good 11 miles away. It wasn’t that far but we were both starting to feel our appetite growing. I tapped on a few keys and found a pub nearby. We could decide what to do there. We parked the bikes, ordered food and drink and settled at a table. All around us people were wearing Christmas jumpers, Santa hats, and smiles on their faces. Our hair messed up by helmets, and clothes sprayed by mud, we looked a little less festive. But the feeling was there. For both of us, citizens of the European continent, Christmas celebrations were supposed to take place that day. There was a meal and drinks waiting for us back in Bristol. So with our bellies full, we decided to cycle back home. Gloucester could wait for another day.

Photo by my friend

Navigating our way back was easy, we simply had to do the exact opposite of what we’d done in the morning, minus all the wrong turns. Only now the wind had picked up, blowing directly into our faces, making us push harder on the pedals even though the roads were mostly flat. We tailed one another, the time for conversation ended by the wind and emerging drizzle. I didn’t mind much. Since I went away cycling in the Iberian peninsula for a few months, wind and rain had become things that happened outside of my control instead of an annoyance on my schedule.

‘Look at those colours.’ My friend pointed at a field. The green of the grass seemed to glow under the fluorescent grey of the clouds. ‘You don’t get such changes in colours so quickly anywhere else.’
I agreed. The UK wasn’t many people’s idea of beautiful, but when faced with the ever-changing palette of the sky, I couldn’t help but think many people were wrong.

We seemed to cycle faster than in the morning and soon we were within familiar roads. I spotted a sign for Wales. ‘Fancy going to Monmouth now,’ I teased. We didn’t. We were getting wet and cold, the movement of our legs the only thing keeping us warm.

Hills appeared and we lowered our gears to rise into Bristol. Once on top, we shifted back to standard gears and freewheeled most of our way to the train station. There, we followed roads I see almost everyday, roads that lead us home. We put away the bikes, changed into clean clothes, and hugged a well-earned cup of tea. And as the dark and cold descended outside, lights and warmth engulfed us inside.