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.”
Ok, minor confession. I made the teensy weensy mistake of setting myself a deadline which I may have inadvertently shared with some of you. The deadline for having the first draft of the book ready was Valentines Day. Yes, I am fully aware that that was yesterday.
And, well, in truth, to be frank, and without putting too much emphasis on my inability to write when I’M SO FLIPPIN’ KNACKERED THAT I CANNOT EVEN SEE STRAIGHT, LET ALONE WRITE, I have to admit that it is therefore, consequently and any other conjunctive adverbs that you can squeeze in, not quite there yet.
I’m sorry if that came across as a little bunny-boiler-ish and overly hormonal. In the simple language which I love and understand the best, I’m just a little ‘pooped’.
Normal service however will be resumed immediately and indeed, I’m only a week away at most. So please forgive me. I’ve had a busy week where life has somewhat overtaken me, rammed, scratched and battered me, but I’m back on the straight, narrow and hardworking path of yet another wannabe author once again.
Right! Socks have been metaphorically pulled up, cap straightened and shoulders pulled back. I am ready to finish the last few chapters. I’m on the home run and raring to go. Just a quick cup of tea and I did spy some ginger nut biscuits hiding in the cupboard …
Have you ever missed a deadline? And the consequences were ….?
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 … 😳
Snuggling contentedly amongst my other issues, I have two rather deep seated and firmly ingrained problems that I have recently discovered are linked. This actually is rather good, because that means that I now have one rather than two. Please note the positive spin – I am if nothing else, eternally optimistic.
I am a people pleaser and find it incredibly hard to say no.
I am unfamiliar with the notion of ‘moderation’.
And the link is this: I can’t say no to others, or myself. I simply cannot say “No! Stop! That’s enough”.
I suspect I am a people pleaser because of a need to be loved. The problem with this, is that being a fairly needy individual but loathe to be a burden, where one feeling should in theory neutralise the other, it doesn’t; it simply makes me complicated.
So I do things for people that I don’t want to do, consequently get grumpy and do whatever it is with extremely bad grace.
And then my neediness kicks in. Imagine husband dearest trying desperately to leave for work in the morning, briefcase and coat in hand, with me attached to his ankles being dragged across the kitchen floor wailing, “Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me!” Not that he’s quite beating me with his umbrella to detach me but …. Admittedly I am exaggerating somewhat, but you get the gist.
As for moderation, this tends to happen when doing something that I enjoy, for example:
Certain types of exercise (ie cycling until my body starts shutting down)
Nibbling delicately on a biscuit (read: devouring a twin packet whilst locking myself in the larder),
Getting excited about an event (hyperventilating, shaking and nausea)
Again, I hope you get the gist.
There is simply no “Off” button. No bright little button with “Time to stop now Katie!” flashing on it. No sodding great beacon with a man holding a megaphone shouting “No, you stupid woman, just Nooooo!”
I can’t say No!
So the question is twofold:
1). How do I stop this impetuous, people pleasing doormattish behaviour, and
2). How do I dig deep enough in order to find my inner self control? (As in, where do you keep yours? Clearly close to hand, perhaps in a little pocket somewhere …. whereas I think I left mine at a childhood birthday party many decades ago.
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?
Indeed, it wasn’t for me for the first 45 years of my life until that wretched thing called love got in the way. You know how when you’re truly smitten with someone you’ll do anything just to be with them? Hang gliding, parachute jumping, ironing their pants? Well, camping was in that category for me.
After a month of camping on my own around France (yes, I shall be bringing out that ol’ chestnut for many months to come), I became a bit of a good camper. I can get my tent up and down in a nanosecond without breaking a fingernail, can make fabulous meals on what is effectively a Bunsen Burner but with only a fraction of the gas (particularly after I broke it) and finally, can manage to ensure that standards prevail at all times in terms of cleanliness (the entire range from Clinique was hidden in the base of one pannier – a necessity but somewhat heavy). So yes, I can now proudly say that I am indeed a jolly good camper.
However, yesterday I went one step further and the Colonel and I visited the Caravan and Motor Home Show at the NEC in Birmingham. (For those not living in England, in terms of size, the NEC is like a dozen aircraft hangars all stuck together i.e. VAST).
Now I know, for a middle class lassie like me, this is not really the done thing. It’s certainly a far cry from the twinset and pearl brigade. And I will confess that it is full of sock and sandal wearers with practicality rather than aesthetics at the forefront of their minds. It is akin to being stuck in a giant IKEA with groups of anorak-wearers. And yet here I am, rebelling slightly by wearing a sassy little skirt and my fabulous Gant boots but loving every minute of it.
I have discussed and bonded with complete strangers over storage capacity within caravans, have talked and listened at length about tents, floor mats and cooking implements, and have lain down sniggering beside the Colonel on many a double bed in the Motor Homes, to see if indeed we can both fit in. (For those interested, the answer is yes, but any ‘whoo hoo’ would be fairly limited without serious injury i.e. falling out or knocking oneself out.)
So a wonderful day was had by all, with packed sandwiches in the Colonel’s very practical military backpack at lunchtime and despite having a couple of collisions with two motorised wheelchairs, I came away with perhaps not an upgrade to our current tent, but certainly with even more enthusiasm for spending more time in the great outdoors.
I will never go down the route of socks with sandals, but perhaps I shall find a backpack of my own. Perhaps something in a fantastically zingy colour and fabric other than the dreary black or camo in canvas, and fill it with a more practical, smaller and therefore lighter travel version of the Clinique range. Fabulous! I have found my inner troglodyte, but one with class!
Are you an outside or an inside sort of person? Indeed, have you gone camping?
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.
Only a few more days now until I cycle off into the sunset with husband dearest and two adoring sons waving their handkerchiefs with damp eyes, gazing desolately at my lonely departing figure …
Or perhaps not?
“Pub?” I hear them ask each other, grinning widely.
“Let’s go!” and they march off smartish towards the nearest ale-house without a single look back at yours truly.
I somehow suspect that the latter scenario is infinitely more probable than the former.
Bastards! Ahh but they can now ditch the salad, eat chips, finish all the expensive ice creams and with no one to keep them on the straight and narrow, when I return, will I find an empty larder and only a small green morsel of mouldy cheese staring back at me from the fridge? Will I find that they have all developed rickets and scurvy? .. And will there be three inches of dust on every half-empty pizza box and penicillin-growing mug-covered table? Will I find dirty laundry spilling over onto the floor and not in their colour-coordinated baskets? Quelle horreur! Interesting how I am more concerned about the laundry than the scurvy, but I digress… How will they cope without me?!
Sadly, I flatter myself. My husband as most of you know is a military man. He requires order, precision and tidiness. I believe that his ideal picture of a perfect home is the one in “The Sound of Music” where Captain von Trapp blows a whistle daily and the children rush into line for inspection. I have mentioned this to him in jest, but instead of poo-pooing my theory, quite worryingly he nods and agrees, muttering to himself as he disappears into the quiet of the study. He does however then put his head around the door to remind me that he is of higher rank than a captain. Quite …
So no, rather irritatingly, I suspect that the house will be sparkling, the larder will have been reorganised, my herb and spices cupboard (a very irksome place for him, that he is usually barred from) will have been cleaned and all those tiny pots and jars which are usually out of date will have been mostly disposed of and the remaining ones placed, yes placed not shoved, with their caps on properly in perfect alignment and in alphabetical order. There will be none of my little hair bands, lipsalves or hand creams left on any surfaces (or in the car, dammit) and my bedside table, usually covered with books, clocks, photographs, more hand creams, eye creams, frankly any creams to help keep old age at bay, will have had a major overhaul, aka it will have been tidied within an inch of its unfortunate and usually cluttered life.
Do I mind this? Of course not! He will feel extremely satisfied as he explains to me the benefits of keeping order and how tarragon should be to the left of thyme, and how folding my clothes at the end of the day and placing them on the chair is infinitely preferable to ripping them off, randomly throwing them ‘nilly-willy’ in the vague direction of the chair and bouncing into bed chattering to him happily and trying to convince him that some rose-scented cream would benefit the lines on his forehead. He will mutter something about them being stress-related from living with me, but within a few minutes I shall be fast asleep, curled up close to him and he will have some long-awaited peace and quiet. No wonder he enjoys going to work so much, and quite probably why he is maybe just a teensy bit looking forward to my imminent departure. Can’t understand it myself.
How do you cope when your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend goes away?
Do you throw yourself into a cleaning frenzy, party for 48 hours non-stop or go into a complete decline?
I am one of those strange creatures in life who doesn’t just have a minor deficiency when it comes to the trait of moderation; rather, it doesn’t exist whatsoever.
On a positive note, as obviously there has to be one, (I am nothing if not eternally hopeful) what it does mean is that we non-moderators are full of passion. We are ones of extremes. There is no soft diffusing button, melting polars into each other. It is one or the other.
When we love, it is with intensity. God help those on the receiving end. They should be given a manual on how to cope. But when we hate, we loathe with an intensity second to none. I’m beginning to understand why as a little girl I found finding friends so difficult.
Whatever relationship we have, be it with another human being or even something as simple as food or drink, (yes I’m going there), it is extreme.
For example a fellow blogger (you know who you are) has a complete passion for ice cream, a certain flavoured ice cream I seem to recall, my love however is ginger nut biscuits. Put a packet in front of me and whoosh! They’re gone. The problem is that being so crunchy, it’s not something that can be quietly nibbled on whilst watching the telly. Unless, like in the cinema you wait until there’s a particularly noisy scene and then munch like crazy before it all goes suddenly quiet again and you’re caught out with a mouthful of half crunched crisps or biscuits going slightly soggy in your mouth but determined not to ruin everyones viewing within six feet. Tricky.
Sadly, I have little self control in this area. If I am on my own and therefore decorum can be eased somewhat, I don’t nibble delicately, I guzzle. Not ladylike I am fully aware, but I can promise you that I will never do this in your company.
But is this just a lack of self control? Of discipline? How did we miss out on this important piece of learning? (Clearly I was smoking in the woods at school during this particular lesson.). If we had an ounce more restraint perhaps. A little composure and grace.
After all, let’s throw a little philosophy into the mix to enhance the point, isn’t temperance one of the four cardinal virtues? In ‘The Republic’ Plato (bear with me here …) narrates a discussion of the character of a good city which included temperance which he said was ‘common to all classes, but primarily associated with the producing classes, the farmers and craftsmen and with animal appetites to whom no special virtue was assigned.’ Does he mean that we craftsmen with animal appetites have temperance or simply need to have it … If Pluto speaks of it, then it must be true. How extraordinary though! Am I a ‘producing class’ ie ‘working class’? From reading Jilly Cooper’s book ‘Class’, I would very much have put myself down as middle class, so I’m now rather torn between believing Plato or Jilly. What a conundrum.
May I continue? Drinking … Once I developed a taste for it, frankly it was all over. Thankfully it wasn’t (apart from my totally off-the-rails stage late teens) until I was in my mid-forties that alcohol became less of a friend and more of a naughty, somewhat addictive lover. Again, rather less Jane Austin’s even raciest moments, and more Fifty Shades of Grey.
But of course somewhat predictably, I always take things to the farthermost point and suddenly discovered what had previously been a way of relaxing the body and mind at the end of the day, had become a serious problem. I suspect some of you can relate to that. By that stage of course there is a fairly acute issue to deal with.
Smoking … I’m not even going to bother going there .. It’s a constant and pathetically boring battle of mine of always wanting, but never allowed. I shall continue to stamp my feet and have a tantrum.
Happiness and/or sadness. No, that’s much too vanilla for the likes of us. It’s either pure unadulterated, unmitigated and all-consuming ecstasy or I’m researching how painful it is to die in various ‘formats’ and googling Dignitas. I write not with humour at this point.
Sport. We don’t do a gentle jog around the park, a lighthearted game of tennis or a cycle ride for twenty minutes in the middle gears. Pah! Of course not. We push ourselves to our utmost and ultimate limits. We need and feed off that feeling of intensity. So, that gentle jog results in marathons being completed, a course of tennis lessons ends in daily three hour practice sessions followed by competitions, and a bit of a cycle pootle results in foolhardy trips from north to southern France (I had to get that in didn’t I …)
The list however is endless and a lack of moderation seeps into every aspect of our lives. From levels of anxiety and depression, to anger, OCD, to social media and how we deal or don’t deal with it … on and on and bloody on.
For we non-moderators, life exists at each end of the spectrum and then some. Our minds are frenetic and often filled with dozens of thoughts racing around and we struggle to find which ones to put into action and which to ignore … It’s like running from the North Pole to the South, daily. Sparkly and glittering one day, damp, dark and depressing the next. And because we put our heart, soul and body into everything we do and think and say, perhaps it is hardly surprising that we feel the need for acknowledgment and even praise for our extreme efforts. Therefore we can be needy and demanding. Attractive qualities? No, probably not. It is however completely and utterly exhausting.
But where we lack middle ground, we make up for in other ways. You could never find a better friend. You could never find a person with more dedication for their chosen subject, person or sport. You will be loved with intensity and if you are married to us, then we will make love to you with unsurpassed passion. We are filled with the utmost emotions of joy, excitement, laughter and love.
Fear not, it is just our way. And if, if you should find us not too strange, unhinged, a little too erratic, and choose to accept us for the extraordinary creatures that we are, (perhaps sometimes very gently reminding us to be calm) and return our love, you would be hard pushed to find a more grateful, more loving recipient.
Do you know anyone like this, or is it in fact you?
I’m not entirely sure, but in truth I think I’m a little bit scared. Finally. I guess it was bound to happen at some point, but with still twelve days to go until The Big Adventure, I’m hoping that this is just a case of reality and nerves catching up with me. It had to happen at some point. (Please note the attempt at a grownup attitude, I’m guessing that had to happen at some point also.)
Yesterday I did the final bits of shopping for the bicycling trip and now the kitchen table and floor are covered in practical maintenance and repair kits, first aid packs, and an awful lot of detailed maps from the north to the south of France. Quite how everything is going to fit into two panniers and a basket, well tomorrow’s packing will tell and that’s not even including a couple of extra clothes and half of the Clinique counter (did I mention that I’d been shopping?).
The Colonel is away for a couple of days so there’s a sense of quiet and loneliness in the house. ‘My Rock’ (what a ghastly cliche!) is on business up north so my stability and routine maker isn’t here. The time to behave like a grownup therefore is here. What I should be doing is rolling over and going back to sleep, but the child in me wants my thoughts bashed out here to you, you unfortunate blighters! Sorry about that.
I spoke yesterday on the telephone to my sister. My sister who has been so unutterably encouraging for me to do this trip. I had thought that she’d call me barking mad and try to persuade me otherwise. Foolishly, I had underestimated her knowledge of me. She understands my need to challenge myself and be finally free of my fears. And for that and for so many other reasons I love her. She has tolerated my past, my nonsense and my mistakes. Where we differ is that she holds her cards close to her chest whereas mine have not just been worn on the proverbial sleeve, but splayed out with garish colours across the street, with trumpets sounding and much hysterical wailing and despite it not being how she might deal with life’s ups and downs, she tolerates that about me too.
The love of a sibling when both your parents have gone is even stronger. She has looked after her irritating baby sister and together we have laughed, cried, occasionally squabbled but also coped together with the worst of emotions, grief. Grief borne from the deaths of our parents. And we have bonded again and again over shared memories that nobody else now in the world can possibly know of. Memories of parents, of childhood, of each other from times long since passed.
I shall telephone her again tomorrow and somehow and no doubt rather awkwardly tell her how much I appreciate her and then we’ll change the subject quickly and talk about our children and laugh about the adventures and journeys that their lives are taking them on. Night night …
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 …
Monday morning and back in saddle again. (Nb for new readers, this relates to the bicycle saddle rather than any association to the equine variety.) But this time it was tougher. Cold, windy, a little rain, a bad attitude and a poor choice of route led me to stop and have a little ponder on what on earth was going on with my mood.
Now, in the old days, I’d have gone into a complete decline, had a minor (ok, major) spoilt brat tantrum usually involving tears (to show someone, anyone who would listen to how utterly ghastly I was feeling and to justify my impending surrender), said “Sod this for a fun game of soldiers” and given up.
Instant relief would follow toute de suite and I would shamefully pretend to ignore the disappointed look on everyone’s face.
Sadly, that little voice in the back of my mind whispering, “You shouldn’t give up when the going gets tough!” gradually became quieter and quieter as the habit of giving up became so strong that it was now the default setting, until I simply couldn’t hear it and even if I could, I would choose to ignore it. It’s incredible how quickly a bad habit can grow.
So here we are, a grown woman, with a raison d’etre to better myself, standing miserably by the side of a busy road, alone, cold, tired and a trickle of rain disappearing down the back of my neck and ending up somewhat uncomfortably in my knickers … Marvellous.
However, with the fearsome prospect of bicycling the length of France, not always necessarily in glorious sunshine with a boulangerie at the next corner and a delicious Frenchman’s shoulder to sob upon, I realise that the new me is indeed made of stronger stuff and I am trying a new tack, and tentatively refusing to fall back upon the default setting of giving up.
So, I delve deep, find my inner grown-up and give myself a stern talking to. This, in simple terms involves some fruity language and the promise of a hot chocolate tout bloomin’ suite.
Oh, and next time, to remember that this is England, so take a waterproof. (Prior preparation prevents piss poor performance …. ahhh yes, there’s a soldier in me yet).
Changing my route and heading away from the dual carriageway and within five minutes I discover that there truly is a God. Who’d have known that they have invented a drive-thru Krispy Creme doughnuts shop just for me! Well hallelujah!
Twenty minutes later, dried out and warm, filled with soft, sweet heavenly doughnuts, (very plural and no I’m not saying how many), a coffee and a route infinitely better than cycling alongside a dual carriageway, I find myself charging along with a smile on my face confident in the knowledge that I’ll have burned off the 4 million calories I’ve just consumed super-toute-de-suite and all is once again well in the world. A bit of behaviour management and a stern talking to and I’m tickedy-boo. Perhaps Krispy Creme had a marginal impact, but really I’m not that simple … ok, maybe …
What do you do when your mood drops?? Do you give into it? (Truth please!) Or do you have a secret weapon or doughnut up your sleeve?
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.
Like the rest of us, I sometimes daydream about winning the lottery … Errrr, don’t we all?
The thought of spending summers on a boat floating around tropical islands whilst a wonderful lady paints my nails as I stand at the wheel with The Colonel beside me sipping champagne gazing adoringly up at me. (Actually the wonderful lady shouldn’t be overly wonderful or beautiful for that matter, let’s not give the Colonel too much to gaze at … let’s give her facial hair, spots and an unusual dental arrangement for starters) … The winters, spent sitting beside a roaring fire writing best-selling books in a huge chalet in Verbier with yet more champagne, a year’s supply of ginger nuts and enough fit (male) ski instructors to get even me looking vaguely elegant on the slopes. (In retrospect, make that two years’ supply of ginger nuts) … Ahhh, what a glorious life it would be!
They say money isn’t everything (Pah! Ok, it’s true) but they also say it’s easier to cry in the back of a Mercedes than on a bicycle and that I do agree with.
So back to reality with a backbreaking thump …. what do we all wish for that will give us happiness?
Life has a funny old way of throwing things in our paths however, determined to try to floor us, or at least postpone our progress, and often just when things are tootling along on their merry way, something is tossed with force unexpectedly before us.
Sadly, for me, it is rarely a lottery win. In fact, the little ‘presents’ that appear tend to be the bad stuff. Usually related to health and death. And we grieve and we struggle and then when it starts to vaguely diminish, we find that in actual fact, “normal” is good. Normal is ok. Normal, our natural default setting, is actually fine, anything rather than being in the depths of despair and depression, is frankly fine.
But, if we wanted more than just normal, more of the good things from life, how do we go about it? I don’t mean to sound overly greedy and it is inevitable that bad things will happen from time to time, but what about having some good things to help counteract them. To act as a balance. To fall back on when the ‘shit hits the fan’.
How do we persuade “life” to throw us a few good packages? Well, we could spend all our hard earned cash on lottery tickets. We could also just sit and gaze out of the window and dream a lot and hope that Prince Charming himself will appear up the stairs of our top floor one bedroom flat on his gallant steed, but the likelihood of that is slim at best, even in my unhinged, erratic mind. So, what to do?
In my mind, the best way forward is to be a “Yes” person rather than a “No” person (kindly read Are You a “Yes” or a “No” Person? for further details!). By this, what I mean is that I for one, have to resist daily the temptation to sit and gaze out of the window and find excuses not to do something, (oh, believe you me, I can find an excuse for everything!) and be proactive (ghastly word, apologies) and get off my wobbly skinny arse, say “Yes!” and actually do something!
Those two words always remind me of Dick Dastardly shouting at his dog Muttley, (if you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about then you’re too young you lucky thing so you have that advantage over me already!) “MUTTLEY!! DO SOMETHING!!” he would shout, although Muttley usually demanded a medal for doing so … Now chances are, you won’t receive a medal this time, or even next, but it’s odd isn’t it how those people who are successful in life tend to be the ones who it turns out have been trying and practising their craft for years upon years and yet we had never heard of them until ooooh I don’t know, a character called Harry Potter suddenly becomes a worldwide phenomenon. Funny that.
So my point is this, surely if we believe that mathematical formula relating to probability, if we keep trying, keep learning, keep working, keep being a “Yes” person and giving it our all, eventually good will come of it.
In fairness, this may not result in a yacht in the Bahamas or a chalet in Verbier. It may however result in an alcoholic giving up the booze once and for all, a sufferer of depression finding a way of living in peace, a lover of flowers owning his or her own flower shop, a blogger having his book published or an idiot like me simply bicycling from the top to the (not quite) bottom of France on a bike called Claude. It won’t earn me a medal like Muttley, or a chalet in Verbier, but it’s a personal challenge and might improve the old muscles in the thigh and bottom region …
Whatever the goal, whatever the dream, and despite whatever is thrown in our paths, let’s be a “Yes” person, make the dream a reality and attack life with gusto, passion and a smattering of hope. Try, try and try again. After all, with any experience that we undertake, if we succeed, we will gain confidence and go on to even greater things, and if we fail, then we gain that wonderful quality, wisdom.
And in my mind there are worse things in life than being a wise old bird with a wobbly arse and a twin pack of ginger nuts in her bicycle basket.
Are You a “Yes” or a “No” person? What is your dream, your goal in your life?
A few days ago I went into the local cycle shop to prepare for my trip through France. The Colonel had advised me to buy a repair kit and an extra inner tube or two. Pas de problem!
However, it is tragically my horrible nature to distrust everyone (except policemen, firemen, the nurse back in Glasgow who does the best “screening tests” for women (apologies gentlemen), some relations and Delia Smith).
I also distrust pretty much everything too (in particular, the locks on the doors, my ability to keep house plants alive and my hairdryer which is on its last legs and I’m sure about to die/explode/cause a house fire).
Trust for me is a tricky old business. As a somewhat anxious old bird I am convinced that I am going to be ripped off, conned, or the innocent young man outside the house is in fact a burglar casing the joint. I fear that everyone is a wolf in sheeps clothing, an axe-wielding murderer and I am the proposed victim. Why? A bit of history and I’m slightly unhinged I suppose.
So a trip to the cycle shop was, in my mind a perfect opportunity for someone to pretty sharply realise that I am a complete novice in this department, to take full advantage, and within ten minutes I’d have them sucking through their teeth, shaking their head and I’d be be leaving with a boxful of gadgets, tools and a warning that cycling on my own from north to southern France was not only inadvisable, but dangerous. (Unless of course I bought their most expensive bike, complete with a six week course of maintenance lessons). And not being the most assertive of women, I’d agree to it all. Then of course I’d curse myself and have to go through the arduous task of begging the Colonel to take it all back for me as I was too much of a wuss to have said a firm “no” in the first place and I certainly couldn’t bear the humiliation of setting foot in the place again. Wet? Abso-bloody-lutely! I am a complete girl’s blouse.
Apparently, this all stems from a lack of life skills, yet again.
Ahhh, but I am learning! I am a new woman! I have had therapy to combat this. I too can be assertive …
So leaving Claude the bicycle chained up outside, I headed into the shop with a confident smile and a breezy gait, (how a gait can be breezy I’m not entirely sure, but you get the gist), determined to look as though I was knowledgeable, capable and therefore unable to be taken advantage of. Ha! I’ll beat the buggers!
Perhaps the fact that everyone in there (and they were all men) was head to toe in Lycra and I was wearing a very pretty floaty little number might have been the first giveaway (see my post Finding Etta which might explain why I figured cycling in flippy skirts was a good idea).
So I gulp, give myself a mental pep talk and go for it.
“Please may I have a couple of inner tubes and a basic bike repair kit?”
Fabulous! Well done me … not a stutter or a wringing of hands in sight ….
The young man behind the counter with orange hair, a matching beard and a lot of earrings raises an eyebrow. “What size tyre is it for?”
Ok I’ve been caught out. I have absolutely no clue. Should I have brought a tape measure from my sewing box? Time to come clean. Time to admit that I’m clueless. Time to put myself at risk of being conned. Fear kicks in, panic is knocking at the door. I am vulnerable.
I give a defeated sigh, accepting the inevitable, point to my beautiful Claude outside the shop, and say, “Um, I think I might need your help with that.”
Forty five wonderful minutes later and I have several new best friends and am sitting behind the cashiers desk (Jon is his name) on his computer showing not only him, but also four of the Lycra-clad men the wonderful website (The Atlantic Cycling Route) detailing the route of my proposed trip in August. Claude, my EBay purchase is now in the shop being twiddled with, checked over with great enthusiasm from my fellow cyclists, so much so that screenshots of the website were taken, a wife was telephoned and Claude has had the complete once-over. Rather amusing n’est pas?!
So I floated back on Claude, flippy floppy skirt thankfully not catching in the newly oiled chains (my new friend Jon behind the desk gave it a bit of ‘lubrication’ for free … (dreadful word I know, apologies …. a bit like moist, soiled and toilet … it’s the ‘oi’ words … shudder … can’t bear them) and I headed home on a high with simply the two inner tubes and a repair kit, plus some funny little plastic things to get the tyres off which he threw in for free. (I think he realised that I didn’t actually have a clue how to change an inner tube … I thought it involved a spoon end or something and a bit of a wiggle).
So you see, all is well with the world. Not everyone is a baddie, in fact, there are some rather nice people out there. And now all I have to do is google “How to Repair a Bicycle Tyre” or I could ask the Colonel. Alternatively my new best friend, Jon with the orange beard, did mention a series of maintenance classes that they have for only £10 a session …. might be an idea, he did recommend a course of three however …
Do you worry about being ripped off? Or axe-wielding murderers hiding under the bed? What are you frightened of?
Yesterday’s little jaunt of 18.3km and not a centimetre less my thighs are telling me this morning, was an interesting learning curve on the etiquette of cyclists.
It turns out that my peddling companions are, once squeezed into their Lycra, helmet on and fearsome black glasses stretched across their faces are the two-wheeled equivalent to the white van driver, or for those who have not encountered our congested British roads and it’s drivers, that person who sits incognito behind a computer screen making foul remarks on social media knowing that they will never have to reveal their true identity.
You may call me harsh, but an hour or two daily around the streets of London and through the parks for the past three weeks has taught me that they’re a competitive bunch, who have no idea of personal space, cycling side-by-side, ignoring the designated cycle lanes, chattering obliviously with their fellow cyclists, upsetting even the most docile natured drivers and never saying thank you by means of a teensy little hand wiggle or nod when someone actually gives them a wide berth. Pah! Such rudeness!
However, I will admit, that whilst writing in fury, I’m generalising somewhat … but I write what I see, every single day.
There was however a very nice chap at the lights whom I asked advice from about where I should be positioned in the road at a particularly tricky junction … he replied, “No clue, just cycle fast and straight and everyone will get out of your way, mostly.” It was the “mostly” that concerned me, so I wobbled to the pavement, pretended to look at my map, and when the road was completely empty continued on my merry way.
Through Richmond Park I pedalled like fury, sadly overtaken by every other cyclist, most irritatingly by a young lad and his companion, an elderly man who I can only presume was his his great, great grandfather … it’s just like skiing, having the little blighters shoot past you with a whoosh of snow as I bellow at them to give me some fucking space. (Sorry about that, just thinking about it gets me reaching for my happy pills and a glug of Bach’s Rescue Remedy.)
I did at one particularly low point see a most capable (and enormous) man dressed in rather fetching red and white Lycra with a large cross on his back, and feeling safer being close to a Red Cross worker (or in my mind, a paramedic), tried even harder to keep up with him. No joy I’m afraid, and as I realised whilst watching his rather muscular bottom disappearing up the hill in front of me, he was in fact a professional Swiss team competitor … in training. I really must work on my flag recognition.
So I arrived back at home yesterday feeling slightly despondent to see the Colonel had been organising and tidying the garage again. If he found evidence of my recent shopping expedition by way of a few rather nice shoe boxes, he didn’t pass comment. He did however give me a rather lecherous look and despite my being disgustingly hot, sweaty and a tad grumpy went in for a kiss … my response, “Quite frankly, on yer bloody bike mate.” I thought that was quite witty, his forlorn face said otherwise.
Today will be a better day ….
How do you rate drivers and cyclists in your neck of the woods?
I know you want to hit me with a shovel, but ummm ….. exercise DOES work. Yup, sorry about that, but unfortunately, it does.
I remember going to the doctor’s surgery many moons ago (Do read The Doctor if you want evidence of my previous mental state) and being apoplectic with rage at his suggestions and yet, months later when the medication had eventually taken the edge off the depression and anxiety and I was able to think just a little clearer, I started the only form of exercise I knew, tennis.
Odd isn’t it how the doctors, therapists, magazines and papers are all telling us to use exercise to beat depression and anxiety and yet still, we are enraged and hate them all for their irritating and pathetic suggestions. “I have a disease, going for a swim won’t change that!” and “How can I go for a run when I can’t even get out of bed?” we shrill. “Don’t you understand how I feel, how can I possibly go for a cycle ride when I feel like this?” we shout.
And yet, and yet, they do keep banging on about the wretched benefits of it, even the celebrities we idolise seem to be talking about it. Bastards the lot of them. They just don’t understand. Don’t they know how darn exhausted we are?
However, when you have those endorphins and dopamine coursing through the body (don’t even question trying to fight those chemicals), the brain is occupied (no possibility of thinking about death, dying and misery, whilst focusing on a small yellow ball flying at eighty miles an hour towards you), the laughter, chatter and screams of hilarity filling the court (and often neighbouring courts) make any downward spirals of negativity stop firmly in their tracks with an almighty screech of rubber on tarmac and a handbrake U-turn. And as for the light, sun and fresh air … well I personally couldn’t find any of those whilst hiding under my bed with only the drooling dog and a family pack of multi-flavoured crisps for company.
The hardest part is the putting on of those trainers. (Read this post next … Short Term Pain, Long Term Gain) After that, it’s a breeze …. one becomes swept up with that extraordinary and distant friend, happiness, and before you can say “Goddamn gym bunnies” your cheeks are rosy, you’re laughing, chatting and organising the next session with newly found friends. If this all sounds a bit too cheesy, the only words of wisdom this old bird can hand out are from that age-old adage, “Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it”. Because, annoyingly, using exercise to combat depression and anxiety and the lethargy that comes as part and parcel of those evil twin sisters, actually does work. It beats it. Game, set and Goddamn match.
WHAT EXERCISE ARE YOU DOING FOR YOUR MENTAL HEALTH TODAY? WELL??
The strange thing about cycling is that it’s impossible to feel any form of depression whilst your thighs are burning, your lungs are screaming, cars and of course other proper cyclists are zipping past, as you force 20lbs of metal and rubber up a hill. Your mind is rather, occupied, shall we say.
Equally, tootling gently around the sunny London somewhat quieter streets and the pretty parks with the breeze in your face and the warmth on your back, seeing the world close up, a feeling of complete unadulterated happiness, of living in the moment totally encapsulates you.
My first trip out was to the sorting office to pick up a couple of parcels. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. According to google maps, a mere 6 minute cycle ride.
I returned home 38 minutes later, and no, there had not been a queue at the sorting office.
I saw two gorgeous old Renault 4’s (along with the Citroen 2CV my favourite ‘pottering along a French country lane’ cars) a beautiful steel grey and white whippet which I knew would have delighted the Colonel, I met a very grumpy old woman whom I had thought I was helping across the road (clearly not) and I discovered that it’s quite hilly in southwest London. I found that I’m good at indicating left, but not right (a rather wobbly affair ensued) and the problem with having a bicycle is that there are no hazard lights, so when all else fails or you’re going to do something highly illegal, you can’t just push the button and everyone knows to avoid you. Simply stopping in the middle of the road on a bike could have serious consequences for the shiny new bike and the considerably older and not so shiny me. I did it once on a mini roundabout (it was going awfully well, but then I had to do the indicating right thing, wobbled rather a lot, so stopped in the centre of the mound of the roundabout). Probably best not to repeat that one. Of course the one advantage that I have, is that when I go on my big adventure in France in August, the mini roundabouts there you go anti-clockwise so I’ll be indicating left, so no wobbling! Hurray … a doddle! (It is anti-clockwise in France isn’t it? Hang on, which way will I be indicating? …. ) And frankly, drive too close to this cyclist at your peril … and possibly mine.
I love looking at the houses, the gardens, the people, the dogs, seeing, really seeing everything. Noticing the detail. The glorious feeling of freedom.
Do you remember the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid film and the beautifully shot, idyllic scene on the bicycle with Paul Newman as Butch, and Katharine Ross as Etta, with the music of Raindrops are Falling on my Head? Well, when I’m cycling that’s how I feel. I am Etta! (Albeit not there in the looks department and I don’t have Paul Newman sitting behind me but you get idea). It’s a time of complete happiness and of being at peace with the world.
So I shall venture out again today and find my inner Etta, that simple purity of enjoying a moment in time, for loving something for what it is, happiness and peace …. unless of course there’s a roundabout to navigate.
What gives you that feeling? Anything else worth trying? All suggestions very welcome (apart from anything smutty or involving a vat of chocolate, or a combination of the two). X