Behind the night sky

Star lights suspended in midnight black

Strung on a woven web of invisible threads

Held in tension by unseen fingers

Piercing the night with bursting light from another universe

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Leave me alone…

   

Leave me alone with God as much as may be.

As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,

Make me an island, set apart,

Alone with you, God, holy to you.


Then with the turning of the tide,

Prepare me to carry your presence 

To the busy world beyond,

The world that rushes in on me,

Til the waters come again

And fold me back to you.

St Aidan, Lindisfarne (Holy Island)

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Ray-Bans and Red Lipstick

Broadway Market is a sight to behold

Every man and woman entering the fold –

of boho eighties chic…

 

One street peppered with colour and sound

country pies and cheeses surround

 

Top knots, sandals, socks and quiffs,

Ray-Bans, waists and chino shorts.

 

Small dogs and lattes in hand,

French song which no-one understands.

 

Snippets of conversation flow (‘this is so cool’)

through the mill of the East End.

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For such a time as this…

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

(Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3)

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The Storm

Thunder cracked the skies,
Lightening sheeting behind bilious clouds, triple forking down to earth.

Sheltering against the sea wall, flip flops came off to connect feet with ground:
A full length, supernatural installation for the curious and brave.


Two salty dogs scuttered past, “hello” and suddenly remembering, “Dobro dan!” – in their native tongue.
One sandy, the other salt and pepper.

Poised, camera in hand, reflexes
Not quick enough to capture the electronic pulse.


Wind rushes over the waters, rippling, driving and curling,
The waves landing heavily on the patient sand.

The earth, black in its
slumber suddenly awakened by loud illuminations,
opening up the skies to pour volts of energy from inside.

Gasps exhale and suspense continues,
rain patters lightly on curly hair and wet toes
as the sheets are re-made further behind the hills.

Soothed in the fascination of the uncatchable, uncontrollable.

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The Expedition

Spurred on by waking up early every day so far, I launched a 60 mile bike ride from Bath to Oxford on the final day: a challenge to see how far I got.

Canal turned into cycle path, turned into hills.

Canal was monotonous, started singing to pass the time. Counted the number of bridges I went over compared to the number I went under: 7-14.

Hills snaked around the Wiltshire White Horses, another song:
“The sun on my back,
The wind in my face,
A smile in my heart as I know your grace.”

Cycle path: green arches covered me, opening into purple flowers.

Animals appeared everywhere. Whizzed past a stork standing as still as a statue. White butterflies touched my arm as I entered their air. Rabbits hopped out in front, sprang back into the hedgerows. A herd of cows, hearing the sounds of their hunger being satisfied, galloped alongside me.

The heavy grey clouds finally turned to rain in the last hour, a relief approaching home as the grey hung over me all day, never breaking.

Exhausted, arrived home to the welcome of a warm aga and wine. The bliss of a hot bath and the joy of being outside. An adventure complete, memories made and a holiday of one girl and two wheels only started.

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Going solo

You’ll know if you’ve read the first post, cycling solo, or doing most things by myself, wouldn’t be my natural choice: I love being with people and so the stories of ‘one girl and two wheels’ wouldn’t be a complete without mentionning a few times when I felt the strangeness of being by myself.

I usually go cycling with one dear friend in particular and we have a habit of halving everything we eat or drink. For example, we’d share half a chocolate bar, half an orange, swap halves on sandwiches, you get the idea. So at my first stop in Oaksey I was having a little snack all to myself and I thought, ‘Ah no-one to go halvesys with. Where is my friend?!’ I gave her a call instead.

Later that evening it came to the first ever moment of eating in a restaurant by myself. I wasn’t going to sit in my room, at least if I was outside my gorgeous hotel I may at least have the chance of meeting some new friends.

Sheepishly, I discreetly sauntered to the bar of the restaurant, unsuccessfully ignoring the glances of other diners and said almost under my breath, “A table for one, please.” Agh, the words were out of my mouth! “A table for one!” I had never said that before! I made my way over to a nice table by the window, hidden by the large farmhouse fireplace and sat down to experience the waiting, the playing, the wishing a friend was in the empty seat opposite, the distractions, the mild interest in the menu, the not-too-long gazes out of the window, and most of all the hope that someone, somewhere would talk to me, and that the other diners wouldn’t look too long.

It wasn’t long before I explained my adventures to the waitress, who didn’t mind at all and proceeded to tell me that her boyfriend, in three days, had made it to London from Yorkshire – that’s almost 250 miles! Much to my dismay, I added that I was also carrying all my camping stuff, but she explained that he was too. Well at least she understood about the cycling.

Sitting opposite an empty chair, I became an observer of the people the other side of the window in the courtyard. Friends catching up, passing the time, laughing, sharing secrets, dreams and the latest football results. I remembered my friends and loved them just the same. The waitress’ acceptance and conversation made the evening bearable and glad I had something in common, the meal felt like a minor achievement. At least, if there is a next time, it won’t be the first.

On the second night, I arrived in Bath and spotting the sign to the YMCA, decided to go for a shared room, expecting to meet other people, although at first I was quite pleased to learn I had it to myself. After my take-away karai with the seagulls and pigeons by the river (I couldn’t hack another restaurant meal with no-one to sit with) the emptiness of the other 13 bunk beds was rather disheartening as the echo of the creaking ladder to my top bunk rattled around the room. Expecting more people to creep in later at night, I blanketed the embryonic unease: ‘Where were the other 13 people who were going to be my friends?’ Chivvied on by my aunty, I eventually dropped off in the silence of the second floor dormitory, awaking at 5.45am to the clear sunshine bouncing off Bath’s walls.

On the third night, still in the empty dorm, amongst my excitement about the expedition planned for the next day, I texted my mum, ‘I’ve not had a hug in three days’. Virtual hugs came winging their way in, and in the morning, amusingly reminded of home by the BBC’s breakfast interview with Gerry from Gerry and the pacemakers (the ferry on the mersey goes past my office window everyday). I was ready to embrace the next day’s challenging 60 mile ride back to Oxfordshire.

Despite these odd moments of strange solitude, I’m surprised I enjoyed the whole adventure, relishing the outdoors, immersed in discovery and delighting in finding my own way on two wheels.

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Curiousity

Bath’s streets are made of golden stone and bring a warm homely glow to the city hidden by trees in the Avon valley. It is a historic city, teeming with tall buildings, crafted with skill and detail.

The detail is easy to miss though, especially as a grown up. On my day of city-living, being a tourist, I spotted three little children throwing themselves into the discovery in ways that made me laugh on the inside and out loud.

The first was a little girl with shiny black hair and white clothes, trimmed with pink, lying face down at the edge of a heavy grid covering which was wedged in between the cobbled grey stones. People were walking past, her dad was on his mobile phone, but the little girl’s curiousity wasn’t a fleeting moment. She was intent on finding out what was beneath the griddle, peering deep into the murky tunnel below, with her feet pressing hard into the pavement behind her. Abandoned to her discovery, she was oblivious to the social coventions of standing or walking in public places, delighting instead in getting a close-up from a different position. She even creeped her fingers over the corners of the grid, clenching closer to the dusty, dirty stones. What did she find?

The second was a little boy, older than the first girl, and patiently distracting himself whilst his parents learnt about the historic figures on the walking tour of Bath. He crouched down, perching on the edge of an old stone step, digging with his finger sometimes, and then a twig, into the crevices of the pavements. This went on for some time, scratching about, and leaning in, discovering what would happen when he lifted the gravelly pieces from the gaps. At another stop, he got on all fours, totally focussed on the gaps, absent-mindedly free from the restraints of hurrying along.

In between these two, the lure of live music drew me into a square just behind the abbey where a musician was playing beautiful jazz/blues love songs to the relaxed crowds sitting on the benches on all four sides. It was the sort of music that makes you want to dance with someone, wrapped up in mutual affection, warmth and delight of each other. I could imagine in other countries, couples taking the opportunity, dancing in the sqaure, but it wasn’t to be in England. The sun was out and I was enjoying an icecream. To the side of me, the music wasn’t only making me want to dance. The pretty purple dress and the blonde curls of a three-year old were twirling along the top side of the square, unconcerned with her audience’s delighted faces, she wiggled and waved, and stretched and twirled, free to feel the jazzy tunes wafting through the summers’ air.

Entering into each moment is a precious gift and sometimes it is good to forget the conventions of adulthood.

That afternoon in the fashion musuem I followed suit and tried on the old-fashioned corset and hoop skirt which I’d always wanted to know what it felt like. Without any friends to join in, I did it anyway, asking another visitor to take a picture of me, and it wasn’t so odd. I enjoyed it. Upstairs I loved the patterns of the parke flooring and crouched down to get a different view on my camera. Feeling brave I reached out, without an audience, or encouragement of friends, to just be me, and I found that curiousity got the better of me.

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4 B’s

Nearly at Bath, the cycle route I was following looped off the page, but I wanted to take a detour, staying on the map, to investigate a possible camping site in Monkton Farleigh. It may have been wiser to stick to the cycle route, but the heaviness of my luggage, including my tent, cooker, saucepan and sleeping stuff compelled me to venture onto the white roads just to see if I could unpack and set up home sooner rather than later. Besides it was clearly marked on the map so I would know where I’d got to wouldn’t I.

Eventually, the campsite didn’t look very promising, too many caravans, but I met a lady walking along, revisiting her childhood haunts where she used to pick wild asparagus along the quiet roadside. It grows in May. As I cycled further, the road grew longer, narrower and less travelled, in fact, not one car passed me for about half an hour.

I’m not sure if it’s Monkton Farleigh, or somewhere else, but it’s certainly there: the steepest hill which at this point required me to ‘dig deep’. I started rolling backwards and wobbled off my bike, ‘choosing’ to use my arms instead and look straight ahead, blithely ignoring the bemused families and their dogs walking down the hill.

It went on for a while and I knew I was looking for Bathford, but the sign pointed to Farleigh Rise, not marked on the map, which turned out to be a new built estate on the cusp of the other side of the hill. The only way forward was down the other side of the steep hill (surely a sheer drop) that didn’t allow lorries, or tractors. I knew I wanted to double-check before going down this one. Parking up, I knocked on the fence of a family with a scary sounding dog and the guy came down and pointed me in the right direction. Not lost after all, I just had to follow the hill, hold onto my bike, and keep it upright as I walked it down the sheerest hill I have ever faced.

Through the four clusters of Batheaston, Bathhampton, Bathford and finally Bath, my destination. Those B’s were the most welcome names that day, and cycling through them like the the refreshing cold of an icepop on a summer’s day.

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Undiscovered cultures

Breaking with my blogging tradition so far this is not a day ago, but hot off the press (excuse the outdated analogy there) in the last half hour.  I’ve had the help of two people named Gerry today.  The first one was an unexpected personal guided tour of the Roman baths as no-one else wanted the tour.  It was brilliant.

Scottish Gerry No.1 brought it to life with tales of the entertainments of the Roman era, with women drinking wine and eating oysters in the morning, whilst the men gambled, wrestled and soaked in the afternoon.  The division of men and women was decreed 42 times by a Roman emperor to halt the ‘naughtiness’ as Gerry No.1 put it, before his law was finally enforced after the 43rd decree was followed by a visit in person.  It was fascinating hearing how the magnificient building was left to disrepair as the Roman armies were called back to Rome along with their practices and cultures, only to be replaced by 17th century houses (and probably some others in between..). 

There is so much merging in Bath: The same emperor who decreed the separate times for men and women bathing, was sent by Nero to ‘build bridges’ in his new English empire.  He re-named the two Roman and Anglo-Saxon gods with a joint name ‘solus-minerva’.  The architect, Ralph Adam? (so many names today I can’t remember) of the current bath buildings was commissioned only after the houses that were built on top of the baths fell in and they started to re-find the the historical treasures underneath.  Likewise, the present National Trust shop just outside the baths, is preserved by conservation order, but archaeologists know there is an amazing ampitheatre underneath.  What is it that turns the tide in public thinking towards such an issue in order to change policy, create action and contemporary culture (as an example – our value of old buildings, or of other cultures themselves)?  Today has been like one of those pictures that is all black to start with and then you scratch the top layer off to find colours and then paint black over it again to create a different picture with the same colours underneath.  Cultures, I love it.

Gerry No.2 has helped fill in the corner of my map that doesn’t exist on the Cotswolds tourer and so I’m going to start an early morning ride tomorrow, and see the mist rise from Bradford on Avon in the sun.  I keep waking up early so although it’s a 60 mile trip I can’t wait to be in the countryside again.  Gerry No.2 printed off the maps for me & I’ve numbered them.  I hope that will be enough and it doesn’t rain and they don’t get soggy.  If it’s more than I can chew I will be thankful I’ve packed my tent!

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