Manhattan today is wet and dreary so the perfect time to settle down and once again attack the book proposal. I’ve just re-read the two paragraphs below about the day we bought my bicycle on ebay in preparation for the trip. Anyway, I thought I’d share them with you as it was such a happy time and despite the rain today, it’s made me smile …. I hope you’re smiling too.
“So, sitting in the sunshine outside a sleepy pub in Suffolk with my parents-in-law, husband and several pints of beer, my other half gleefully took it upon himself the task of bidding for the bicycle. Loving a challenge he rolled up his sleeves with gusto and, with a grin for his audience, he somewhat importantly pushed his lop-sided glasses further up his nose with one finger. Then, licking his lips, he rolled his head from side to side as if in anticipation of six rounds with Mike Tyson. In truth I think he was having a moment of fancying himself on the trading floor of a city bank. Any moment now he’d be shrieking, “Buy! Buy! Sell! Sell!” Michael Douglas and Wall Street have clearly left their mark on him.
With the ease and serenity of someone who is unfazed by the adrenaline rush of an auction, he laughed his way through the excruciating process of the last hour of bidding. I sat beside him wringing my hands in anguish, squealing rather a lot and as the seconds counted down, leapt around crossing and uncrossing my legs as though about to wet myself, which was in fact a distinct possibility. Thankfully however, we won the bid as, when the clock hit the last five seconds he put in a final cheeky bid. One hundred and one pounds! He grinned with victory and punched the air, beer spilling onto the table. It mattered not, for my heavenly husband had beaten Mike Tyson, outplayed today’s gold market and made a sweet million. I had a bicycle. He was a happy man. His parents were uproariously giggly and a tad tiddly and disappeared to fetch some celebratory drinks; meanwhile, I was utterly exhausted and needed a lie-down, but five minutes later made-do with a large glass of red. Shopping with my husband has never been a tranquil experience.”
Some would say categorically not. They have a disease, it’s a part of their makeup (genetic or otherwise) and they have no control over it.
Others might argue that yes, how we feel is our choice. We have a mind of our own and we can control it (using various methods).
It is also often debated whether depressive thoughts are addictive, in the same way that substances like alcohol, or behaviours like gambling are addictive. And when we are not using these substances or behaviours we feel out of control largely because in a (self-destructive) way the familiarity gives us an element of comfort. In a similar vein, it is often noted that women (and men for that matter) in unhealthy relationships are mimicking those they had with their parents in childhood. It might not be healthy, but it is familiar.
So, if using by these theories, we fight the urge to believe that we have no control over our minds and we fight the urge to fall back into the dark, warm but comfortable well of depression, ( Read my post on Depression – A Multi-Pronged Attack ) can we overcome it?
My view, for what it’s worth, is yes. But it’s no walk in the park.
It’s curious how whilst I was cycling through France last summer, I had never been so happy or so at peace. Perhaps it was something to do with … the daily exercise (ok it was a brutal 60 – 90 kms a day); being in the sunshine (yup, it hit 41 degrees); a challenge each and every moment (wait til the book comes out, then you’ll understand); social interaction (albeit mostly in a different language apart from on meeting one couple who when I exclaimed how delighted I was that they were English, they replied, “Nah! We’re from Birmingham.” Right; No alcohol, but gallons of water and my weight in croissants; No toxic people to be around and no social media …. And so on and so forth.
Yes, all those things that we’re supposed to do daily to help ourselves (granted, perhaps not in quite such an extreme form), nevertheless, whilst I’m not suggesting that anyone heads off for a 1200 km cycle ride, it’s funny how happy one can be with just a bicycle a tent and the winding road ahead.
So what do you think? Depending of course on the severity of the anxiety or depression, do you believe we actually have a choice to be happy?
Now I fear I must discuss, or at least give my view on the slightly taboo and decidedly undignified subject of knickers.
Of all the advice that I was given prior to my cycling trip, and there was a lot, the common denominator from everyone was to invest in a good sturdy pair of cycling shorts. To this day, I’m not entirely sure if mine were shorts or knickers. Whichever they were, they did the job well. But Mon Dieu, what an unsightly piece of clothing.
Lycra’d within an inch of their life so that they tightly suck in the wobbly bits like a vacuum packed chicken, and let other parts spill out over the top and underneath; the end result is one ends up looking like a rather badly stuffed Christmas stocking; all lumps and bumps but the only surprise with this stocking is whether one is able to take them off without the huge effort making one either puce in the face, or accidentally breaking wind.
As for the padding within, it is simply a large piece of foam which sits like a small yoga roll-mat between ones legs. However, the result? unattractive, however not a bruised botty in sight.
But, there is one piece of advice that I was NOT given, and that was to wear them from day one of said cycling adventure. If it is left until day three, you will discover that you can’t sit down without wincing, howling and yelping. Sadly this is really rather a case of locking the stable door once the horse has well and truly bolted and frankly is in another county. This was sadly what I did.
And, whilst trying to be delicate here, it’s not just ones ‘back bottom’ that becomes bruised, it’s the ‘front bottom’ area and for want of a better word, ones ‘fou fou’. This entire region becomes so delicate, that should you be travelling on a romantic holiday with your darling loved one, you can wave goodbye to any woo hoo for your fou fou for at least a week. Or if you do, he’ll find that he got more than he bargained for, with more wincing, howling, yelping and yowling than a night in a brothel with Madame Whiplash and her whippy-stick.
I think that just about covers it.
Any experience of cycling knickers? No? Lucky you … 😳
I’ve had to have a wee chat with myself of late. In truth it was more of a stern waggling of the finger involving some rude words and the occasional metaphorical kick in the shins.
And why? Because I was sensing a slight return of the lethargy, the tiredness and the excuses. The desire to light a fire, put on a pair of unattractive fluffy socks, matching pyjamas and woolly hat and vegetate makeup free was fast becoming just a little too appealing. Now fear not, I have come to recognise this. It is my very own slippery slope; my uncontrollable freewheeling downhill on Claude the bicycle when the brakes have failed and the only option, unless I am prepared to hit rock bottom, is to take an almighty leap to get off in the full knowledge that it’s going to hurt.
The problem with my ‘slippery slope’ is that the end point is even more unattractive than me in a pair of fluffy pyjamas. You see, I’m just not that kind of gal. I’m a “where’s my nothingness of a silk nightie … can’t find it … never mind, better do a Marilyn Monroe and wear nothing but Chanel No 5.” You get the gist … I fear that if I didn’t jump off said slippery slope, within a fortnight I’d have eaten my body weight in ginger nut biscuits, would be drinking like a fish and be found, the size of a small whale reading Barbara Cartland, wedged under the bed. As it happens I have always had great admiration for Barbara; frankly anyone who managed to write that many books is a hero in my mind – I can’t even do one (yet).
Now don’t get me wrong, I can give you a thousand reasons why I should be kind to myself and give in to the lethargy. Well, one or two …. my folate levels are apparently low, and ummm, well it’s winter isn’t it?
So in truth, without a plethora of excuses, I’ve had a ‘wee chat’ with myself, have bounced out of bed, slapped on some face (makeup, to the men out there), have embraced the cold air with gusto and have come to my coffee shop. Much too long a sentence once again and for that I’m sorry, but you see I’m just a bit excited. I took that metaphoric almighty leap off the freewheeling bicycle and not only was it easier this time, but the landing didn’t hurt. Yes, it’s only a meagre trip out of the house, but what I’ve found is that if I start the day with the right attitude, everything follows suit with my jobs done and the house and husband sorted. I then go to bed that night happy, fulfilled and tired enough that whether I’m in my birthday suit, a beautiful little nothingness of a silk number (marriage number two therefore efforts and standards must prevail you understand) or wearing a flannel onesie with a picture of Bart Simpson on it, I’ll sleep like a baby and the slippery slope will be a thing of the past. Or at least until the next day …
Of COURSE I’m not going to ask what you wear in bed … as if … but instead, what do you do to combat lethargy?
Yesterday I joined a wonderful class and being the first introductory meeting there were ‘housekeeping’ rules to discuss; where the loos and fire exits were, if a fire alarm was to go off to treat it as genuine as no practices were scheduled, no bad language allowed etc etc.
Two minutes in, the fire alarm goes off, the lady sitting next to me jumps up and exclaims, “Oh Fuck! It’s a fire!” clutches at her knickers, declares an ‘oops’ moment in her excitement and runs, semi crossed-legged out of the room. I’d say it was a pretty good icebreaker.
Ps. To reassure you, it was the toaster in the next door room that set it off! How we laughed! What made you laugh today or yesterday? X
There are a lot bloggers here who are writing, or have been pondering for years on writing a book. Well, I fall into the latter category, have a mass of material and am now just starting to try to put it all together.
The problem (and oh and there are so many), is that all I want to do is to have a month to myself in a small room with no distractions. The likelihood of this? Nil. So I have to improvise.
Yesterday however, I did something completely out of character and perhaps more in line with an activity for the over 70’s; I took the Colonel to visit Ham House and gardens. But before you offer my unfortunate husband any sympathy whatsoever, he has a trip to Rome this week and therefore is in no position to make a fuss or complain, not that I am remotely jealous (she says with a derogatory sniff and twitch of her nose as she beats the green-eyed monster to the ground with a large shovel).
I had cycled past Ham House a couple of months ago and put it on the old bucket list. And well worth it too. Built in the 1600’s it made us stop and gaze and wonder and take a trip back into the life and times of the Fire of London and the Plague, when maps were dubious in their accuracy, baths were a rarity and men and women of a certain class and wealth had their own designated areas in the house.
A couple of particular rooms that both the male and female apartments had within the house were tiny ‘closets’ (not as in dressing room or to be confused with a bathroom), but a tiny room with a fireplace and an area for some sort of a daybed and a desk where he or she could escape to, rest, or write. Can you imagine?! What a joy!
Now understandably these rich souls had to deal with all sorts of other problems that we generally don’t have (such as giving birth to 11 children obviously not all at the same time without the wonders of mind-altering and pain-blocking drugs, infancy death, no clean water and therefore drinking beer instead – were they all drunk? etc etc) I do however rather envy them having their very own ‘closet’. One could escape for hours at a time and write in relative peace and quiet. I could escape for hours at a time and write in relative peace and quiet! Of course, there isn’t really much room here in our military house to create such a room and I suspect our housing officer might raise an eyebrow or two if I started knocking down the occasional wall but you get my gist. A place of my own, with a log burner, armchair, lots of Jane Churchill fabric, a secret stash of ginger nuts and a large no entry sign on the door (in a pretty eau de nil distressed piece of shaped wood). Perfect.
But sadly, unless I compromise, take refuge in either the clothes cupboard or the understairs cupboard and switch the log burner for a hot water bottle, I fear I shall have to continue with my writing in the comparative norm like everyone else of the kitchen, with my iPad attached to the wall by the cable that isn’t quite long enough to reach the little table and chair as I forgot once again to charge it overnight.
So yes, I stand and type, grasping an hour here, an hour there trying to create a book so wonderful that eventually someone, anyone, ideally a desperate agent will give me a flicker of hope and perhaps, just perhaps one day on amazon at 0.001 pence you might be able to find a book written by me, about a woman and her lowly bicycle Claude … who knows?
And, in the meantime, I think I might just move the Colonel’s uniforms from the cupboard and try and make a little more space … I can almost fit in there if I bend my legs to the left and push the handbags and shoes to the right … oh! So that’s where I hid my jewellery when I was away … golly now I can tell the Colonel it’s back from the menders …
Where do you write? Do you have a perfect hideaway?
Without meaning to harp on about it too much, whilst cycling for the best part of a month in France, I had only myself for company.
I talked to myself, sang to myself, told myself funny little stories (and laughed at them – yes I am suitably strange) and cried to myself. I regularly bored myself stupid and craved company. The only people, until almost the end of the trip, that I encountered were of course French, and despite a fairly healthy ‘O Level’ result in the subject over 30 years ago, conversation was understandably a little limited. Of course, over time it improved considerably and particularly when I became less self conscious and more confident.
On one occasion, when lost again, I asked a family for help in the navigation department in my very best french.
“Ooh!” they grinned, realising immediately that I was a foreigner, “Are you English?”
“Oh thank God!” says I with great enthusiasm, “You’re the first Brits I’ve spoken to in fourteen days!” I wanted to hug them, kiss them, sit them down with a cup of tea and listen to their life story.
“Nah! We’re not English, we’re from Birmingham,” came the strong accent in response.
Right… Frankly I couldn’t care where they came from, as long as they could understand me and I could listen and understand them. It was a short lived conversation … I think my overly enthused neediness was perhaps a bit off-putting. Similar to when I try to chatter to the postman when he comes to the door, his eyes start to glaze over as he backs down the path. Perhaps I truly am just a needy individual.
However in the last few days I met someone who had been doing almost a parallel trip to me. A South African by birth, he said what he thought, without any filter, and with gusto. He called a spade a spade and swore like a trooper. A rather high powered physicist with a photographic memory, I did question the swearing, but he merely threw his head back, laughed like a drain and replied, “Frankly Katie, I don’t give a fuck!” I liked him enormously. But he too had been devoid of all conversation and despite being fluent in five languages, French was not one of them, so had even less of an opportunity for chatter. It hadn’t however stopped him from having an absolute ball. We then talked incessantly for three days and marvelled at the delights of having company, giggled over the best way to get in, out, and dressed in 6ft x 2ft x 2ft tent, and spoke endlessly about our ridiculous adventures. Laughter is truly good for the soul.
I am now back in the real world and find myself a slightly different creature. Having craved company, whilst I enjoy it, I enjoy it in moderation. No, that word that has never been a part of my life before and I welcome it and wonder if perhaps it might overflow into other areas of my life. There is always hope. I find that I now need a certain amount of solitude in which to block out the noise, the people, the endless nonsense which I find invades my mind and colours my mood. I can now control my own mood completely by myself which is new to me and very much welcomed, but external influences still can alter it. So partly for self preservation and partly because I simply enjoy it, I now ensure that I have time every day and every evening for a little solitude. Call it self care, call it indulgence, call it selfishness, as my South African friend says, “Frankly, I don’t give a f…k!”
What about you? Do you need solitude or do you loathe it? Do you control your own mood?
I’ve bicycled 1000kms through France, taking the long and winding route of La Velodysee through towns and villages, along canals and rivers, on cycle tracks, roads, through fields, around fields, lost in fields …. I’ve been frightened, I’ve cried, I’ve hurt myself, I’ve hated myself and bored myself. And yet, I’ve also laughed until tears have streamed down my face. I’ve been humbled and I’ve been moved to yet more tears by the kindness of others. That’s quite a lot of tears actually …. odd really for someone who doesn’t tend to cry much.
I’m utterly exhausted, both physically and mentally. I want to speak, I have so much to say and yet the words won’t come. I want to sleep, but my mind is preventing it. And I honestly don’t think anyone really understands at all. I’m not looking for praise so please don’t give it. I’m not wanting congratulations in the least. But I do want to thank each and every one of you for all your encouragement and support throughout this. But at the end of the day, all I have done is very simply to have tested both my mind and body to their absolute limits.
Having never wanted to see another canal, river or pine tree in my life, I am strangely missing them. Having bored myself stupid by my own thoughts for days, weeks, and having longed for conversation (preferably in English), I now crave solitude and peace.
I do however feel that this is normal. This is a normal reaction, behaviour and feelings and as with everything else, my favourite Persian saying comes into play … This too shall pass …
But it’s done. This dizzy, ditzy blonde and (slightly) unhinged woman has done what she set out to achieve. And now, in truth all I want is to sleep.
Well, I’m nearing the end of what can only be described as an extraordinary 26 days.
I have 7 left and short of Claude (my bicycle) and I completely running out of steam or getting squashed by a truck, we’re almost there. Being the eternal pessimist however, yet always full of hope (and no I don’t know how that works), I’m never one to count my chickens and it certainly ain’t over till the fat lady sings as they say.
Most of what has happened will be in ‘the book’, but suffice to say I have enough material to write a trilogy.
I have laughed until I tears have streamed from my eyes, I have cried, wailed, howled in pain and in fear, and screamed at myself to dig deep, not just once, but almost daily.
And the outcome? I have found a strength not just physically but mentally that I never knew existed. I have been alone and sometimes desperately lonely … and sometimes just simply desperate. I have lain in a tiny tent being battered by storms for 48 hours, convinced that at any moment in the darkest of nights it was all over.
And yet, I have found kindness and generosity, laughter and warmth. I have been propositioned by men both younger and about forty years older than me and have also discovered that camping au naturiste doesn’t mean a beautifully natural site in the pine forests, at all … I have been given a standing ovation, snarled at, snapped at and had to deal with handfuls of drunkards. And that’s only scratching the surface.
And for what you might well ask? Why would any sane person put them self through this? A personal challenge? A midlife crisis? Or perhaps simply a woman looking to find where the girl in her had gone. The girl who was once fearless and strong but somewhere through that inevitable process called life, became lost, became frightened of everything but most of all, became frightened of the negative voices in her head, the unutterably foul, burdensome and oppressive voice of a demon called Betty.
Has your past restricted your future? And how do you intend to remedy this?
Ps. If any of you have got this far with my drivel, you mightn’t believe me if I told you that I’m in a bar and La Vie en Rose is playing … I’m in heaven.
As I embark on week two of my adventures travelling through France on a (now rather squeaky) bicycle called Claude, I have come to realise that everything here changes within moments.
The weather, the terrain, the incline of a track and energy levels and of course this all impacts upon ones mood.
One minute all is well and the weather is good, the sun is shining and there’s a light breeze. This can change before I have time to say, “Which pannier is my darn fleece in?” and before I know it, it’s not a fleece that’s needed, it’s an umbrella, Wellington boots and an oilskin waterproof all-in-one, complete with hat. Although I do sometimes smile to myself as I remember the Colonel telling me how many moons ago in training, they were all barked at with a, “Skin’s waterproof Sir!” Very true and sometimes quite a useful reminder.
The track is peaceful, cycling through the pine forests but lose focus and you lose your way. Within moments the track turns to a road with cars racing past and lorries roaring within a couple of feet and the confidence can be knocked within seconds.
As for getting injured, I’ve got more bruises and scrapes on my legs than when I used to muck about with horses!
And yet, it passes, and it passes quickly. Yes I know I harp on rather irritatingly about the old Persian saying This Too Shall Pass but it’s very true. It does pass, one solves the problem and moves on. No harm done and a little more wisdom gained. Character building one could say.
And as for the good times, the happy moments? Well they are held onto, treasured and clutched close to the heart. Nothing can take them away. Anything from a peach being given as un cadeau from a small French boy to three men saying, “Madame, we commend you” and solemnly and sincerely giving me a round of applause. Frankly I found myself ridiculously moved by both of these moments, and there have been many many more. It’s not really a big deal this cycling trip, (I’m no explorer or great adventurer!) unless perhaps you’re like me, slightly unhinged with a point to prove to nobody else but yourself and a desire to dig deep and find that wonderful quality that for me, was lost for a long time, courage.
Have you ever lost your courage, and did you find it again? How?
I think one of the most enlightening findings to date is that the biggest challenges I’ve had to overcome are often those found to be festering in my mind.
Yesterday I deviated from my route of cycling alongside the Nantes – Brest Canal and took to the roads. The advantage being that it was more direct and I had a bit of catching up to do from a rather slack day two. The disadvantage (of course there’s always one) is that I therefore encountered hills. Not just a little ouch on the legs for ten seconds and it’s over, but serious back, leg and bottom breaking stuff that makes muscles holler in pain and the lungs scream. But where there’s an up there’s always a down and the freewheeling to follow is a respite – until the next one.
And then of course there’s always the danger of counting ones chickens before they’ve hatched… As I pushed Claude (my bicycle for new readers) up yet another ‘colline’ and looked around me I thought that frankly I couldn’t get any higher, and relief did rather start to wash over me. It was also the tail end of the day and nobody could surely be that cruel to put yet another challenge in my way.
Err … Mistake. As I rounded the bend, yes, a long freewheel down but then a monster, a beast of a long, not to be messed with, avoided or run away from, MOUNTAIN! (Fair enough, very, very large hill) …
Dear God even if I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, put my fingers in my ears and shouted, “La! La! La!” it would still be there to face me.
Remember the children’s book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt? Well, I had no option but to go over this bugger even if I walked the entire way. And neither tears nor a tantrum would make it magically disappear.
And then I remembered the phrase, baby steps.
You can’t eat an elephant burger in one go, so you break it up into bite-sized pieces.
Bearing in mind that my options at this point were fairly limited, I sensed this approach was worth giving a go. Firstly of course there had to be acceptance that there was going to be pain and secondly that it was going to be a lengthy form of pain.
But, little section by little section I tackled my mountain, puffing, heaving, fighting the bastard thing, sweating, panting, howling at times in sheer frustration …
Sometimes however from afar a hill can be perceived as a mountain as are many challenges in life and the prospect of undertaking such a task can be frightening in itself. But as with so many things, if it’s broken down it’s in actual fact not quite so terrifying.
Slowly, slowly, bit by bit I cycled, pushed and heaved my way up. When I had enough breath, I sang songs that I could only remember the first two lines of, so starting making up the rest … Gave up on that and sang happy birthday to me even though it wasn’t, but at least I knew the words. I pretended I was an incredible author and was a guest on a talk show (Graham Norton’s as it happens – yup, a repetitive fantasy) and all the wonderfully witty stories I would tell (hadn’t of course worked out what they were exactly), oh and the best one was doing a book signing at Waterstones in Picadilly – apparently the biggest one in Europe! And the queues were out of the door! “Oh I’m so sorry you’ve been waiting!” I’d smile coyly.
Oh what marvellous daydreams I have!
But on I battled. Keeping my mind preoccupied with thoughts of nonsense simply to keep away the constant reminder of the physical agony. There were no tears, just pain aching long and hard. Baby steps … baby steps …
But wait just a heart-in-your-mouth minute … can this really be so? Is that really, truly, dare I say it, the top? Have I climbed my very own Mount Everest?
Well blow me down with a bicycle pump! Indeed I have! And I grin, widely and congratulate myself with another two mouthfuls of crunchy baguette, and a glug of water and stand and look around me.
Distance is a remarkable thing … the colours of the land stretch out and become softly muted. Figures and any features or forms of human activity are now invisible to the eye and the complete silence gives way to solitude. A feeling of total peace from being utterly alone, drifts and washes softly over me. Perhaps I truly am in heaven.
What challenges have you got in your life at the moment that you’re afraid of? And how do you manage your fears? (Not by singing happy birthday I’m sure!)
If I had thought it was hot in London, well here in Huelgoat it’s positively steaming. After the typical schoolboy error of bicycling too far on the first day, leaving me utterly exhausted, today I have just gone a few kilometres to this beautiful (although frankly they’re all beautiful) little town. I am camping beside the lake and all is peace and quiet.
Disasters to date? Breaking Claude’s saddle on the ferry. Yes, another minor mistake! When travelling with this much weight, lift by the frame not the saddle. Durr me!Honestly with all these schoolboy errors I should be in shorts, pulled up socks and sensible shoes. Nevertheless, found a repair shop and all sorted for twenty euros with much broken French/English and a lot of arm movements.
Successes to date? The Colonel’s army sleeping bag. Heaven in a rather sickly green colour. Never again will I poo poo his suggestions.
All in all, I am making slow progress in a haphazard sort of way and learning very quickly about the importance of food and fluids and taking advantage of the boulangeries and English style lavatories at every opportunity.
Has anyone any advice for travelling in France par bicyclette?
I am finally ready. Tomorrow I leave for the beginning of The Journey.
For those of you who (thankfully for you and your sanity) haven’t endured my endless witterings, I must clarify that this is not an antarctic exploration, nor am I walking unaided through the Gobi Desert, climbing K2 or sailing solo around the world. No. I am, with the aid of maps and hopefully rather a lot of signposts, bicycling my way along the Atlantic Cycle Route from the port of Roscoff to a campsite known as Moliets-et-Maa which is roughly between Bordeaux and the border with Spain.
I suppose the only difference is that I am doing this trip with my old friend Betty. Betty is my little demon, my demon of anxiety and depression who hasn’t been around for a while, but I sense she’s waiting for me, smirking slightly and lying in wait, ready to pounce at any slight moments of stress.
But, in essence I have the real company of Claude (my bicycle), a rather natty little tent which Claude is not invited into, and my husband’s army sleeping bag. I’ve also managed to squeeze in most of the Clinique sun protection range just to ensure that I don’t arrive at my destination looking like a small shrivelled walnut. Claude has his own repair and maintenance kit but the packaging on mine is prettier. I have a tiny cooker thing that looks a bit like a Bunsen Burner and singes the hair on my arms every time I light it, a few other cooking and eating implements, and a stack of maps. First aid kits etc of course and … well, it’s all packed now and I simply can’t remember but am hoping to goodness that I’ve got my passport in there somewhere.
The anxiety levels are pretty much through the roof this morning. The usual symptoms which I’m sure some of you can resonate with … stomach doing a gymnastics performance, palms disgustingly damp, shaking hands and mind and thoughts darting from one corner of my brain, ricocheting off it’s boundary and firing off into another direction. You can understand therefore why I’m rather looking forward to just going in order to end this purgatory. Perhaps purgatory is too strong a word, but it’s been a while since I’ve had it, and had forgotten how awful it is.
But, let’s be very clear here as I’m certainly not looking for any sympathy, I am the one who decided to do this and it certainly hasn’t been forced upon me! In fact most people are appalled. I think they worry about my safety being a woman on her own and all that. But frankly, if it’s as regards the likelihood of being hit by a truck, well, frankly that could happen to a man too, and if it’s about some dodgy bloke trying it on … well woe betide him! They clearly don’t know the volatility and sheer force of a middle-aged, highly strung, hormonal woman when she feels threatened. (See my post Road Rage for further clarification on how I sense I am marginally unhinged).
So no, whilst I am anxiously waiting for the hours to pass, and feeling excited but terrified in roughly equal measures, I’ll say au revoir for now and will post again when I’m on the other side of The Channel. Hopefully, by then I shall have half a dozen croissants in my basket, a large grin on my face and my sense of direction intact (surely, as long as I cycle on the right and keep the sea on my right then I’m doing it right and going roughly south …). As for roundabouts, I haven’t yet mastered them in England, so ….. I guess I’ll just have to keep you posted. Adieu.
It’s all well and good patting myself on the back and encouraging myself to step out of the old comfort zone, but understandably, others might not have the same urge to do so.
Going to the bicycle shop to give Claude (my bike) a general overhaul prior to ‘The Big Trip’, I realise that I am not alone in travelling around on two wheels and enjoying this lovely weather as half the world and it’s cousin are at the little local bicycle shop too.
The red haired, multi-pierced friend, cycling fanatic and in fact shop keeper from my previous visit unfortunately had his attention firmly up somebody else’s inner tube so taking my place in the queue, I was finally attended to by ‘Gustapho’, a rather splendid Brazilian with an encyclopaedic knowledge of ‘la bicyclette’. I certainly felt as though Claude and I were in safe hands.
Sometimes however I do wish for a little privacy and surrounded by the truly serious cyclists, a ridiculous amount of Lycra and some fairly solid thigh muscles all waiting in the queue for their turn, I found myself whispering to Gustapho about Claude’s newly acquired clicking noises, the dodgy gear and the brake that the other day failed to actually work at all and resulted in a slightly closer inspection of a Privet hedge than I had previously anticipated.
“Aha! You have need of me. You need Gustapho. You madam, may call me Gus!” he pronounced proudly with a strong accent in a rather lovely theatrical way. I feel as though I’ve just stepped onto a film set and any moment ‘Gus’ is going to give a deep bow with much waving of his arm.
“However,” he pauses (I actually think for nothing more than effect), “For a full service Madam, we have a waiting time of one month.” One solitary finger is raised with force at me to make the point.
A lot of red-faced gulping, apologising and whispered grovelling with hand wringing ensued with yours truly explaining that I had thought that I was so organised and prepared but clearly proper cyclists, such as those I was surrounded by in this tiny shop, have every detail planned out not just weeks, but months in advance. Schoolboy error Katie. You truly are a novice.
I could hear tutting and sighing from other customers and so began asking about other shops in the area who might be able to help. But apparently every shop within a 50 mile radius worth their salt would give me the same answer, so humbled, humiliated and rather red, I started backing out of the shop. Quite hard when seven other people all with bikes have wedged you in and you’re desperate to leave.
All of a sudden however my red-haired, tattoo-clad friend then popped his head up from his inner tubes, gave a huge grin, came over and shook my hand like a long lost friend. Oh the relief at the sight of a friendly, familiar face.
Whereupon he explained loudly to not only ‘Gus’ but embarrassingly to everyone within hearing distance of the details of my trip. Now I’m not so bigheaded as to imagine that a middle-aged old bird such as myself could possibly make an impression, but bless his little cotton socks, he had remembered every detail of our last encounter when I admitted that I, said old bird, was undertaking a 1200 km bicycle ride through France on my own, camping each night whilst donning a rather unattractive pair of padded cycling knickers which in fact may well be shorts. Having divulged all of this, and left me feeling slightly less of a lower class bicycling citizen, and almost a slight sense of pride, he then happily disappeared into the bowels of the shop for presumably more playing with his inner tubes.
However, for my moment of happiness, I discovered that everything comes at a price. For the lady (and I use the term loosely) beside me with fearsome helmet, dark wraparound glasses and an enormous mountain bike, suddenly involves herself. A splutter of laughter from her as she raises her glasses to her forehead and peers down at my tatty bicycle, Claude, with his pale blue slightly distressed paintwork and wire basket on the front with a rather natty pink handbag (if I say so myself) inside it.
“Good God!” she sniggers, pointing at Claude, “On that?”
It’s an odd thing to feel protective over a pile of metal and rubber, but Claude and I have bonded well over the past couple of months and I felt that implied insults were most certainly uncalled for. Pah! She had a good fifteen years on me and I felt my hackles rising well above her varicose veined legs. But of course, manners maketh man and all that, so I smiled as sweetly as I could between clenched teeth.
Whereupon she launches, along with Gus about the merits of having a proper bicycle, in fact as she so smugly told me, it’s imperative to have two! Her road bike (she pointed down the stairs to the maintenance section where a skinny whippet-like equivalent to a bike) was being finely tuned for apparently the third time this year.
“My dear!” she tinkles with laughter, “Yours is far to heavy and cumbersome! Haven’t you thought about the hills?” She, Gus and now a couple of other Lycra’s roar with laughter together with Claude and I wanting the earth to swallow us up.
“And who will be taking your gear?” she carries on. I thought gear was a way of talking about drugs, but clearly she’s talking about my spare clothes and tent.
“Well, um I’m putting everything into the panniers and the tent, sleeping bag and roll mat sort of fit across the top of them,” I finish rather feebly as their mouths start to hang open and whilst the woman’s eyes narrow at me and her head tilts questioning in disbelief, Gus’s eyes are widening and becoming faintly bulbous. He’s reminding me of a large fish on a plate with the head still on and you want to take that silly little sliver of lemon and put it over the eye so that it stops staring at you. Actually I’d rather slap them both with said fish.
More laughter, clearly this is hilarious. I feel as though I’m back at school. Frankly I could bludgeon one of them very happily. Gus starts fiddling with my gears rather roughly and talking detrimentally about my bottom bracket, crank arms and dropouts. I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about but more of the Lycra-clad brigade (aka customers) are joining in, sucking through their teeth, shaking their heads and offering words of unintelligible technological advice to this pathetic creature (me) with her flippy floppy skirt, pink handbag a rather dejected looking bicycle. Perhaps they have a point. Perhaps this is truly just madness. I can feel that pricking of tears. Talk about pissing on my fire. Any flame is well and truly extinguished … in fact I’m now just a little puddle on the floor.
But with a jangle of his multiple earrings and silver crosses around his neck, my flame haired friend bounds up the stairs with a beaming grin like a long lost friend.
“Gotcha booked in for the morning!” he shouts. “I’ve shifted a couple of things around. We’ll work it out for you.” And with that, he gives me a wink, pats Claude on the saddle and moving his head closer to it, gives a wonderful stage whisper to Claude, “Don’t worry mate, I’ll have you fit for the fucking Tour de France in 48 hours!”
If I wasn’t concerned about getting my now frazzled hair caught in his nose, lip or eyebrow piercings, I’d have snogged him.
Gus looked rather surprised, the lady with the varicose veins and the two bikes looked thoroughly miffed and from behind me I heard some tutting. But frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.
After much thanking, and believe you me, you couldn’t have had a more grateful recipient, Claude and I left swiftly and apart from becoming slightly stuck getting out of the door and leaving humiliated and with our confidence in tatters, we know that we will be fine, we will work out the problems which undoubtedly shall arise and even if we end up going, with my map reading skills, via Timbuktu, Claude and I shall write to our lovely WordPress friends and tell you all about it, the good, the bad and the ugly bits too … You’re all brill. You don’t laugh at me too often, you accept me for who I am, metaphorical warts and all. And for that my friends, I thank you.
How do you react if you’re ever laughed at or humiliated?
PROPER PLANNING AND PREPARATION PREVENTS PISS POOR PERFORMANCE!
So, the maps are prepared, the route is not quite set in stone but a phrase book and an O level in French will hopefully be enough to get me from Roscoff in the north of France to Moliets et Maa in the south. If I end up in the Alps, you’ll know that I’ve got my droit and gauche mixed up somewhere along the line. Easy mistake I’m sure.
My camping gear is ready and I practised again today putting up my tiny one-man tent. All fairly straightforward except that now that the ground is as dry and hard as concrete, so a small mallet will be added to my panniers.
I have a few clothes ready, including some extraordinarily unattractive padded cycling knickers. I was told very clearly that purchasing these would be a life-saver for me, or certainly for my bottom. Although frankly they’re so big you could potentially use them as a buoyancy aid. It was clearly not a woman who designed them. I have never seen such an ugly foam-lined piece of Lycra in my life. However, if they prevent a sore bottom, then my vanity will have to be pushed aside for a while. I remember at prep school we had to wear two pairs of revolting grey enormous knickers. Underpants and over-pants. Even in summer – grim. Now there’s a yeast infection waiting to happen. These are not dissimilar except rather stretchy and the padding makes me walk as though I have a rather bad case of haemorrhoids. Enough said.
Claude (the bicycle) is going in for a bit of a service next week, to my lovely new chum with the red hair at the bicycle shop to make sure that he’s all tickedy boo, fit, healthy and raring to go (Claude, not the red-haired bicycle doctor). The left brake needs a bit of tlc I discovered last week … ok, it chose to fail at a rather crucial moment. Don’t worry, the lady and the dogs were perfectly fine afterwards.
And as for me, well, I have three weeks and five days to go, so of course am planning the important things like working out how I’m going to fit the entire bathroom cabinet into my panniers when they’re already filled with dull things like bicycle oil and spare inner tubes … The Colonel and I clearly have different priorities.
The ferry is booked, the cooking kit and first aid packed up (although I am a complete girl’s blouse and frankly if I’m needing first aid, I shall be found in the nearest hospital with Claude and my French phrase book trying to get sympathy … I wonder if the French are as tough as the Scots? In which case I’m doomed. They only hand out drugs if you use a combination of tears and begging in roughly equal quantities.) I think I’ll keep the first aid kit in just in case, we’ve got some Thomas the Tank Engine plasters and some Dettol, plus various different gauze’s etc etc. Perfect.
I think I’m relatively fit, so I just need to keep up with the exercise and then …. boom! I shall be off. Setting off on my way to Clapham Junction railway station, packed up, raring to get onto the train to begin my adventure. But the funny thing is, that I’m also enjoying the preparation of it too. It’s not just about arriving at Moliets et Maa, it’s about the entire journey, both physical and of course, mental. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this. This extraordinary feeling, not of anxiety, but of excitement, pure unadulterated excitement.
To be continued ….
Ps What makes you excited? Nothing smutty allowed … Ok, so when was the last time you were really excited? Nothing smutty here either …
Some of you might know that I’m doing a wee bicycling trip through France next month. 1150km of pottering along cycle paths and tracks, through villages, past (and into) boulangeries, and following the coast south all the way to where my husband’s family will, fingers crossed, be waiting for me with aftersun, paracetamol and a vat of ibuprofen gel.
I’ve chosen the scenic route which with any luck will mean avoiding the lorries and buses, but may of course mean that I have to endure the sound of my own voice and thoughts for many, many hours a day at a time. Thankfully I’m no singer so there won’t be any renditions of The Sound of Music, but I do ponder on whether I’ll be ok with just … me. It’s not a safety thing, God forbid should some poor fellow think it’s wise to take on this feisty old bird! No, it’s more about being bored of my own thoughts and if things get bad, will I be able to stop the downward spiral of negativity without my usual routines and a practical and heavenly husband just a few miles away.
Well, time will tell and any suggestions are genuinely welcome.
I’ve been going out most days and gradually getting stronger, fitter and more confident. People on the road never fail to astound me however, cyclists and drivers alike. Yesterday I had only three shrieking moments, once with a lorry cutting me up, once with a woman suddenly deciding to cross the road and the last one, much the worst, with a fellow cyclist in front of me deciding to ‘gob’, yes ‘spit’ his phlegm out which promptly landed on my leg. Arghhhhh! Yes, I damn well did give him hell. To be fair, he didn’t know that I was right behind him, but did his mother teach him nothing?!
I got a little lost as per usual, but found Fleet Street, The Strand, Covent Garden and little secret squares tucked away with the occasional terribly smart restaurant hiding within. Beautiful. I was looking to bicycle along Southside which I’d heard was rather fun, but having been stampeded by a school trip of children simultaneously with a group of Japanese tourists I made a bit of a diversion, not even sure if that was Southside.
I ended up in the borough of Lambeth which is dodgy old place, well the part I was in certainly had little to recommend it. Huge tower blocks, screaming children, an ominous feel about it and a few too many ‘young’ loitering (with or without intent I know not). Certainly the blood was pumping as I passed a small group of lads who thought it amusing to try to intimidate me. Standing up on the pedals and pushing on hard, I got past in one piece despite one of them thinking he might outrun me on his skateboard … pfff … as bloody if.
At the far end of this particularly dubious area however I found myself at The Vauxhall City Farm. Quite extraordinary to find Alpacas and chickens in the middle of London. I stopped and watched and listened as two girls had rather an amusing discussion as to whether or not donkeys were carnivores and their safety was in question.
Having a little bell on a bike is now fairly pointless, as people 80% of the time who are walking, have headphones on so can’t hear you, dogs are unpredictable (nearly took out a Dachshund last week) and other cyclists … well I’ve only overtaken three so far and one of them was stationary. I think perhaps I need a socking great foghorn instead, but being slightly highly strung myself, I may well find it’s not awfully good for the blood pressure. I give myself enough frights … the other day in the bedroom I was opening the sliding door of my husband’s cupboard and screamed blue murder as I discovered someone standing in front of me in the cupboard. Dear God! Thankfully it was in actual fact just my own reflection in the mirrored cupboard door, but I needed a bit of a lie down after that. You get my drift … perhaps a foghorn is not the answer.
I’m getting fitter of that there is no doubt and my stamina is improving (particularly with the incentive of a bloke on a skateboard shouting obscenities and chasing me). And the other day I managed to overtake a girl going up a particularly long hill towards Wandsworth as her boyfriend waited patiently at the top for her. It felt good.
I still have a long way to go and watching a YouTube video in the front garden on how to change a bicycle tyre last Friday certainly was a little too public as I ended up having various very kind and well meaning people offering to help, but that wasn’t really the point! How sweet they were, but as I explained, I do need to work out how to do this for myself! People are kind really, they’re not all axe-murdering psychopaths.
So onwards and upwards. Have a lovely day my friends and remember, if you’re in London, avoid the dodgy end of Lambeth past the farm, and for certain, avoid a blonde bicyclist wobbling her way through town with an array of expletives on the tip of her tongue and a rather pathetic tinkly little bell on a bicycle called Claude.