Tain't what you're doing

Adventures of the mobile and static kind

2011 Cycle Trip Diary. Don't worry, it's funny.

9th March 2011: I'm amazed sometimes at how much of the world isn't in London
    But really, is there actually stuff outside Zone 6? I've passed acres and acres of countryside, and none of it is  inside the M25. When did this happen? I was pretty convinced for a while that most things were available within reach of an Oyster card but this trip has convinced me, that no, a fair amount of stuff is somewhere else.
    I set off on Sunday 6th March from north London with Alexis at about 10am and spent the following few days cycling through pretty English villages on our way to Harwich and the ferry that I'm sitting in, writing this entry. We've spent 3 nights wild camping in children's recreation grounds (on the advice of a local vicar, not the local teenagers who amazingly weren't sitting around, drinking glue and fondling each other), Equestrian training grounds and the back garden of a pub. None of these places had showers so consequentially I'm a little worried there's something growing in my underpants that isn't sensory related. I can't be certain but it's possibly mushroom shaped.
    The rain has mercifully held off and we've been cycling along many a pretty road with glorious March sunshine on our faces. Various tunes are playing in my head to accompany me, not wanting to actually listen to music. Top of the charts is Survivor's Eye of the Tiger, which is an appropriate pumping track, though for some reason I've got the Kellog's Frosties version from their advert in the 90s with Tony the Tiger:
"I've got the Eye of the Tiger,
 The Cream of the Fight,
 With Tony beside me,
 I'll do alright,
 I've got the Eye of the Tiger.....
 Kellog's Frosties, they're Grrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaattttt!"

Despite this I've survived on Muesli for breakfast for the last 4 days.

18th March 2011: The more I see of the world, the more I realise life in London is ridiculous
After spending a few days in Amsterdam meeting interesting people and seeing how relaxed they are about life I've come to the understanding that working 50 hours a week, spending an hour to get anywhere amongst rude, arrogant people isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Amsterdam (or the 'Dam as the cool kids calls it, which is basically just me and somebody I heard saying the word in 1998) is to cycling what banking bonuses and government subsidies is to rich wankers. That means it's good in case you didn't work your way through that analogy. It's so cycle-friendly, even the pedestrians have less right on the pavements. I had an interesting conversation with a finely pissed fellow who was cycling alongside me quite rapidly at 1 o'clock in the morning. It went something like this:

Pissed fellow: "Hallo, fregt angt nein kiner shnauser shimple shample, dribble"
Me: "Yes, indeed hello."

To help you I've already translated it into English.

We (Alexis and I) stayed at the cousin of Annebeth who I met on a train to Sweden, called Rianne who gave us her apartment, food, beer, shower, keys and general wonderful hospitality. In return I broke one of her mugs. I'm all about giving and receiving me. Mainly receiving though. We met her boyfriend, Bas, who will one day be CEO of the Reichs museum. Wonderful, warm people.
Annebeth showed us around Utrecht which is so lovely and laid back I don't know why I didn't just buy a small house there and live forever in a blissful Dutch clog-filled dream. Oh no, I do know, I can't afford it. That's a bummer.
I found my first swing club at the Kompensall on the Friday and had a few really good dances. Typically of Amsterdam, only about 2 of them were with Dutch ladies. I would like to say I produced some magical moves out there, but I think I will settle for not having dropped anyone on the floor.

Also in the news: Charles Taylor, the ex leader and genocidal sunglasses wearer of Sierra Leone was sitting trial at the Hague as I passed by. To commemorate this historic event I took a dump in the local McDonalds. Hopefully it will meet up with him as he floats down the sewers into a cess pit where he belongs. http://www.charlestaylortrial.org/

There may be more stories from my bowel movements later on, but at least you'll be pleased to know I've had a shower and removed the fungus. It made a lovely salad. You probably won't want to hear how I made the vinegrette though.

23rd March 2011: The complexity of my life has descended to just one notch up from that of  a pigeon's
There's a wonderul quote by Bill Bryson in Notes from a Small Island:
    Here are instructions for being a pigeon:
      1. Walk around aimlessly for a while, pecking at cigarette butts and other inappropriate items.
      2. Take fright at someone walking along the platform and fly off to a girder.
     3. Have a shit. Possibly on someone's head.
     4. Repeat.
Now, whilst I'm a little more discerning in the things I put in my mouth, and cerainly ensure that my choice of areas for defecation are a little more selective (apart from that time in a children's playground) I can't admit to being much more constructive with my time than our diseased-ridden feathered friend.
This has consequences on the psyche. Generally, I'm just passing time on my bike looking forward to the point I can stop to have the patisserie I bought in the morning. No stress of getting to work, no feeling inadequate about my ability to perform at work, or to get attention from women. No insecurities about where I'm going in life (because, at this moment, I have just enough energy to concentrate on where I'll be sleeping that night), no feelings of inferiority in comparisons to others (because generally the only conversations I have with people revolve around bread and patisseries). For me it's enough to know that my mother loves me, JMFM is in the world and that I have enough food to last for me for ooohhh at least two hours.

The first night in Germany was eventful, to choose an inappropriate word. Alexis and I thought we'd treat ourselves to a campsite, having spent much of the previous two weeks sleeping in bushes. The campsite would provide us with hot showers and that degree of security that comes with staying somewhere official. So it was to our slightly racist dismay that we discovered that a small band of Irish gypsies had taken over the campsite. Being the open-minded liberals that we are, we proceeded to ensure that all our valuables were hidden from sight, buried under 6 tonnes of gravel and locked to a boulder.
Our nerves were only further heightened by a group of chocolate-smeared kids 'befriending' us and watching us put up our tents whilst asking how much everything cost. The evening then progressed as it became dark by these same nine year olds driving their van (having to stand to see over the wheel) round and round the campsite, passing within whiskers of our tents. Alexis then got called a "cunt" and a "nigger" which must have been novel for a white South African, and had sand thrown at him. Due to my intense machismo and intimidating presence they didn't bother me, except to dub me "Jackie Chan" (quite affectionately I thought). Alexis woke up in the morning to find the fly-sheet on his tent had been unzipped in the middle of the night. And I can't be sure, but I think a fair amount of my own political correctness also went missing.
Fortunately the rest of Germany has proven to be full of Germans instead, most of whom I speak to seem to be rabidly liberal and ecologically mindful.
I'm currently in Hamburg who's most interesting feature so far has been a huge squat in the centre of the city full of drug dealers and anarchists. I went in and paid 50 cents for a cup of fruit tea. Bargain. I wonder how much it is for a bag of smack.

1/4/2011: If I ever had the opportunity to meet myself, I wouldn't have a word to say
You'd think that with all the time that I have pedalling through vast tracts of countryside,  I might have something decent to think about, some train of thought running through my head that might be the fruit of some masterplan to solve world hunger or remove Jeremy Clarkson's power of speech. Instead I get to the end of the day and wonder how I ever managed to spend it in my own company. I never realised I was so capable of being gormless for such lengths of time.

I am now on my own, after Alexis left to return to "life". I must admit to being rather timid in the face of spending my first night in a dark forest on my own. I've had to keep reminding myself that twisted weirdos aren't always lying in wait around the next bush, with night vision goggles and a handy supply of chloroform. I mean, I only ever rarely bothered to bring the goggles with me.

I'm rather fond of the Germans. I did for a time however believe they had a rather odd habit of saying something like "Good fart" as I departed their company. I found it a bit of an odd way of responding to one of life's small social embarrassments, and in any case I thought I was being rather more discrete with the machincations of my bowel. But then perhaps their oflacatory senses are more sensitive than to what I'm used to. It wasn't till later that I realised they were merely wishing me good riding (supposedly with the wind behind me as it were).

Having said that I like the Germans, I should tell you of one rather excrutiating stay in a guesthouse, the female owner of which bore a passing resemblance to one of those East German athletes who was dosed up with steroids and are now more masculine than any male cyclists who may choose to stay in their abodes.
I was feeling incredibly tired after five days of hard slog from Hamburg and decided I needed some creature comforts so I idled into the bar of a guesthouse to find the said owner inside. She may or may not have been Heidi Krieger, who is now Andreas Krieger. I agreed with myself that if she/he could give me a room for 20 Euros I'd take it. Fortunately my German has progressed enough for me to be able to say "Ein zimmer?" whilst rubbing my fingers together in a daft Shylocky kind of way. She responded by telling me it was 25 Euros. I tried to bargain with her, but her "NEIN!" was so sharp that I immediately agreed in case she had an old javelin lying around the place, waiting to be rammed up my rectum. To be honest I was so terrified I would probably have been willing to become her steroid mule for the foreseeable future.
I avoided her and any long sharp athletic equipment until the following morning when she banged on my door and demanded to know what time I would be leaving. I counted on my fingers to ensure a correct response and told her 30 minutes. "DRIEZIG MINUTEN!"  she yelled, as if I had just told her I had used her favourite mustache wax for buffing my bicycle. She then muttured something and stormed off, leaving me to frantically get my stuff together in case she came back with the rest of her sexually ambiguous teammates. 25 minutes later she did come back, thumping the door, shaking debris of plaster off the wall. "Funf minuten?" I implored rather pathetically to which she yelled something that might have been illegal. I promptly left, not bothering to check if I had left behind anything important, like my testicles.

12/4/2011: It's truly joyous to know that I have the endless capacity to be a complete cock
   Okay, so it's not everybody's idea of confidence within oneself, but when you can hold your head up high, walk into a new country which you know nothing about, and still expect to come out of a bakery scoffing a marmalade donut I think you can safely say you're a winner.
    So, I had just assumed that the Czech Republic used Euros and despite seeing gloriously sugared treats marked as costing "14" it didn't perturb me into thinking that maybe my crisp German produced notes would work. I guess the fact that a donut would actually cost 14 Euros should have startled me, but I think my mouth was just salivating a little too much. The poor woman in the shop delicately pointed me towards the bank where I could withdraw this funny looking monopoly money.
   I've also realised that the Czech Republic is the first country I've been to in quite some time where I didn't know a single word of vocabulary. As already stated my German is quite functional when gesticulating wildly whilst saying "bitte", and let's face it, it's harder to find a Dutchman who can't speak English than it is to find an Englishman who can speak Dutch. Sadly, in Czech I can't even excuse my own inadequacies with any badly pronounced pleasantries. However in my desperate attempt not to come across as knowing nothing about the local culture I find myself slipping in bits of other languages that I have picked up. So I will mumble something along the lines of "Ein beer pajalsta" which is unintelligible of any speakers of one of the three languages I have juxtaposed for the sake of not sounding like a bloody foreigner.

    Prague is I must say, quite a wonderful city. An efficient transportation system, oozing in culture and oh my goodness do they have cheap beer. The first time I was handed a bill in a bar and I managed to work out just how little it was, I thought I had died and woken up in a grog-fuelled heaven. In fact I'm quite surprised that the Czechs aren't wondering around in a daze of permanent insobriety, vomitting on every corner before taking a refreshing bath filled with hot pilsner. I'm just thankful the British youth don't have access to this clearly dangerous value for money.
    I've been told that the Czech people aren't the friendliest in the world (by other Czech people incidentally), which coming from London I took as a personal challenge. And whilst the people I have met dancing have all the joy that swing music tends to give people, there is a sense of the intolerant when it comes to people in the service industry. I tried to attract a waiter's attention once to perform quite a degrading task of taking an order. The response I was given left me reaching for the nearest Pretzel to protect me from any other missiles that could have been projected from his mouth.
   It's also not incredibly good for vegetarians which I have recently reverted to after an initial bout of meat fuelled frenzy. I had felt the craving for a constant dose of protein in order to give my poor little limbs something to grow into. Whole menageries of animals were culled in my insatiable need to rip carcasses open with my teeth. Every time I passed a McDonalds I had to control my lust for 40 Big Macs with a Royale with Cheese on the side (that's a Pulp Fiction reference, trivia fans). However, now that I have now regained my compassion for life, it's proving a bit tricky not to just keep eating kidney beans which seems to be the only non-meat based protein that shops sell.
   One final point I'll make about the Czechs is that if all I did was pop into grocery stores and look at the people behind the till I would be forgiven in thinking that I had taken a seriously wrong turning and ended up in Vietnam. For that is the Czechs immigrant of choice. No Hamburg Turks or Parisian Algerians, the Czech Republic have embraced the land of Ho Chi Min and will hopefully one day produce a lot of half oriental babies. Which, as we all know, are the prettiest by far.

24/4/2011:   I've taken Britishness to an absurd new level
                I've always had a predilection to the ridiculous when it comes to social embarrassments, but an insignificant yet instructive incident occurred recently that has highlighted just how incurably British I am. I decided to follow a cycle route in the north of the Czech Republic which led me up a very steep hill. I was quite on my own and going incredibly slowly when I came upon a car ahead of me. As I approached it a man got out, pulled out a chainsaw from his boot and started to walk in my direction. Now there was nothing to suggest in his demeanour that I was about to become part of an Eastern European horror movie (“The Czechsas Chainsaw Massacre” perhaps) yet as I am a bit of an over-imagintive scaredy-cat (more on this later) I was inwardly terrified at the possibilities. However because of this wonderfully English obsession to not cause offence or look a fool I wasn't prepared to run the risk of him thinking that I thought poorly of him (I am of course making an assumption that being considered a sick serial killer in Czech is not appealing to them). Instead I continued at a pace of 7km/hour past him desperately hoping I hadn’t made a mistake placing the urge to not pull a social faux pas above not being carved into bits of human gnocchi. You’ll be pleased to know that my stiff upper lip remains intact, still just slightly above my trembling lower one.

10th May 2011    Does the world really need so many bloody hills?
    Cycling north from Czech Republic to Poland I may have made a slight miscalculation by not looking at a topographical map earlier. In any case, I thought, even if I were to come across anything in the way of a mountain I’m sure I could negotiate my way around them. So it was with slight agitation and the loss of considerable body fluid that I struggled up 20000 metres (approximately) above sea level and discovered that I could not as The Shamen said in the early nineties “I can move, move, move any mountain”. I bet Mr C had never cycled over one of them in the midst of an ecstasy-induced high……My apologies to the 90% of you who have no idea who The Shamen were. It really beggars belief why someone hasn’t just built a great big flyover across these hills.

    Nevertheless I made it up and over and into the otherwise flat Poland, with my thighs magnificent on the rest of my 55kg body. And in addition to my stonking quadriceps, there are also the stunning views that climbing so high and far allow you. Spending over an hour of hard slog cycling up through a Polish village and into the countryside I was treated with a simply breathtaking vista. The amber rays of the sun darting onto the lush green rural idyll instilled in me a knowledge of why belief in God continues to this day within the human consciousness.
I then realised I had gone the wrong way and had to cycle all the way back down, gnashing my teeth at this deific trickery.

    Cycling down from Germany, through Czech and Poland, I found it inevitable to make comparisons between the Eastern European countries themselves and the far more developed Western neighbour. The main difference that I can gather between Czech and Poland, is that Poland doesn’t have Prague in it. Oh I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but that’s the biggest thing I can think of.

    In Poland there is an extensive construction development of properties, with much of the countryside sporting brand new large and it has to be said pretty houses. Certainly from a cosmetic point of view these are pretty impressive. However as every Polish builder is in currently in London (FACT; I read it in the Daily Mail) I wonder who it is constructing these things.
    A rather unfair comparison with it’s Teutonic neighbour is the state of the roads in the Eastern countries. It’s a bit of a lucky dip whether one gets to cycle on pretty good tarmac or large chunky stones that seem to have just been thrown on the ground with an effort to make the most pointy bit face upwards. I’m surprised the Soviet tanks actually managed to roll across these beauties at all. Cycling over it gives the body a similar sensation your hands get from a Playstation controller when you crash into a wall in Grand Theft Auto….Just y’know, worse. I would turn a corner and find myself in a road with holes large enough to hide ex-Nazi officers and their families. In fact I think I heard Heinrich Himmler muttering some propaganda just three feet below where I was riding.
    An oddity about Poland is that there are no bars, cafes or restaurants in the many villages (essential when you’re fed up with crapping in the woods). Every small village in England just about has a pub, and German likewise has a café, yet Poland seems to have no convenience available to the modern day cycle-tourer. So in an attempt to persuade the Polish nation to open more bars I’ve coined a worldwide number one smash hit (to the tune “There are no cats in America” from the 1986 Disney Classic ‘An American Tail’
“There are no bars in Poland
And the streets are filled with holes,
There are no bars in Poland,
Perhaps that’s where you’ll find the Poles”
Okay, so it needs a bit of work.
And incidentally, an hour after composing this ditty, I found a bar.

    I re-entered Germany on my way to Berlin from Western Poland. When I cycled through the border between Germany and Czech, I passed along the idyllic Elbe river, waltzing by imposing rock formations and pretty villages. By way of contrast, the Polish side of the border area between Germany and Poland contained mainly prostitutes and truck drivers; one presumably to service the other. To be honest though, looking at their toothy appearance and bedraggled gait, I couldn’t tell all that much difference between them. Perhaps they’re on one of those team-building exercises at work where people swap jobs for the day to see how the other half operate. In any case, I whisked past the love hotels and stumpy limbs before crossing the Oder river into the clean air of Germany where not a single street walker could I find. Perhaps tax is higher on the Teutonic side.

    I had great expectations of Berlin and had already made up my mind to emigrate there before I had even set foot in the place. And seeing how people live I have serious reservations about why everybody in London doesn’t just move there. The city is so cheap, it’s almost third world; the streets are wide and well maintained, meaning I can cycle along them without the feeling that everybody wants to kill me; and kebab shops sell food that tastes of actual food (rather than the perverse ability of kebabs in Britain which manage to taste of anything but).
    Despite the small ‘incident’ that occurred in Germany in the late 30s/40s, Jewish culture seems to be thriving with holocaust memorials, Jewish museums and cemeteries scattering the city. I find it quite healthy that a country can look back on it’s own history and remind itself of what happened. I find it hard to imagine the Amritsar Massacre Museum or the Bloody Sunday Memorial Hall opening up next to Buckingham Palace. I suppose that’s the advantage of going abroad to kill people over doing it in your own country. In the International Guidebook to Genocide, the first rule is always do it somewhere else.
    Another unique feature of Berlin is the huge amount of fantastic graffiti there is everywhere. I guess the advantage of having your city first bombed and then erecting large modern concrete buildings is that nobody cares if you use a spray can to liven it up a little. Try drawing a 20 metre picture of a sleeping African mother on the side of a 15th century cathedral and see what happens. Even in avant-garde Berlin, God may just be a bit pissed off by that.

23rd May 2011: Only once you've seen two beetles locking horns in a seemingly endless struggle for dominance can you say you've witnessed true love
As I've been sleeping mainly in forests and spending time in various countryside locations I've had the opportunity to see a lot of wildlife in its glorious guises. Germany for example has an awful lot of these little red creatures who, in pairs, are either mating or reenacting the great showdown between Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior in Wrestlemania VI. Oh come on! You know you want to see it: The Ultimate Showdown
Finished? Okay so these beetles will go on like this for ages in this love-making/battle to the death. It's not actually clear which is the male, and which is the female. At least not until one of them turns over on its back and lights up a cigarette. They then spend the next ten years bickering about the washing up.
And so I too have spent time with my beetle, Jenny in Berlin where we spent a wonderful time seeking out such international treasures such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, and of course the Spaghetti Icecream. After spending most of the last two months on my own it was fantastic to have her as company; intelligent, witty and a great dancer. In return she says that I send grammatically impeccable text messages. Which is a very good basis for a strong relationship I think.
We spent a few days at an apartment of a couple of emigre friends, Ben and Jo. For the price of a small cupboard in London, they have a flat that has four rooms, a balcony, a kitchen, bathroom, store cupboard, cellar and a flippin' corridor. Quite why everybody in London hasn't already emigrated to Berlin is beyond me. Perhaps it's the fear of Spaghetti Icecream.

Other animal-related incidents:
  • Encountering three horses on their own on a cycle path during my first hour in Czech Republic. I sat eating my lunch and thought it cute that they came over to say hello. Until that is, that they stuck their noses into my bags, and didn't relent until they had muzzled their way into my sandwich.
  • Riding for half a day with an odd sensation in one of my toes. After taking my shoe off and seeing my sock covered in slime I understood that either I had forgotten that I had run out of tissues last night or that a slug had made its way into the shoe during the night when I had left them out and didn't have the decency to tell me it was there. I shall be writing to Invertebrates Monthly in a column giving survival tips to slugs and other molluscs, how to avoid being hurled by upset cyclists into the afternoon traffic.
  • Being barked at by every dog in every village I go past. There's nothing quite as disturbing to a peaceful ride when a cacophony of barks, growls and drooling are hurled towards me as I cycle by. Fortunately most of them are behind fences, but the occasional one will leap up and try to bite my legs as they're going round. You also get some who are so timid that they run away all the way up a hill as the lumbering beast of man-bike inexorably chases after them. I get to the top of the hill and cycle past them without eating the poor terror-stricken beasts, and they simply just turn around and run back down the hill again.
  • Various nocturnal mammals that make noises outside my tent at night. Okay, part of it might be my paranoia in the middle of a dark forest at night. But there is definite scurrying, rustling and borrowing happening when I'm trying to get some sleep. And unless it was a dream, I'm certain I heard Gordon Brown pacing around outside, shuffling papers and mumbling something about “treachery”.

5th June 2011: I speak two languages with which I can converse with over three billion people. It therefore seems statistically rather unfair that none of them are actually here.
Polish is a pretty difficult language to get my tongue around and finding people to understand me in this part of the world is quite tricky. I manage to communicate with them using my crap German, crapper Russian and looking like a lost puppy.

I've spent the last two months getting across Poland and I've come to love this country which seems to have been whipped into existence as if pulled from a magician's hat. And a hat with a murderous habit at that (I'm sure there's a rap in there somewhere). I've passed through Gdansk, hosted by the wonderful Michal and Aga who have taught me a great deal about the city. It's actually only 70 years old as the Russians completely bombed it AFTER the Germans had left. It reminds me of a couple of children I saw on the street, arguing over the rights to play with an Action Man. After the bigger child had won, he trampled it into an inglorious death, then stood, posing for photographs with an AK47 in his hand and giving a tube of super glue to some other kids to repair it with.
At least some of that last part was made up, but I hope you appreciate the analogy.

The Polish countryside is really nice (and mostly flat) and I've spent many a wonderful evening camped on my own overlooking the Baltic sea with crashing waves to lull me to sleep. However, there are also a great many parts which are pretty tricky to find somewhere to pitch my tent without being attacked by mosquitos within three seconds of standing still (try going for a wee with those buggers around you and you're in a constant fight to stop them biting your leg at the same time as not pissing all over yourself). So on a couple of recent occasions I've had to stop in a village where the mozzies are fewer, and have asked if I can pitch up in someone's land. This has usually involved me shoving a piece of paper with the words for “Please let me camp here” along with that pitiable look of a starving puppy in attempt to invoke feelings of charity. They will then fire several questions at me to which I'll look blankly at them and after a while they realise it's easier just to let me stay.
These moments have proven invaluable to see the great generosity of strangers. On one occasion I stayed on the land of a Ukrainian farmer's wife. She was quite striking in that she only had three teeth and she invited almost the whole village (of six people) to come and entertain the deliquent vagabound she had found in her garden. She gave me tea, and breakfast in the morning, and just before going to bed she suggested that I and a pretty local village girl who was with us, should go back to my tent. She said this RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE GIRL'S MOTHER.
Such is the extent of generosity that I've found in these parts that I've come to expect it. Indeed when the chastity of the local maiden isn't offered to me, I become deeply offended and start looking elsewhere for more amenable folk.

Poland also achieves what most countries can only dream of: virtually no racism. This idyllic utopia is managed by the fact that everybody is white and Polish (apart from the odd Ukrainian farmer's wife who to my naïve eyes, just looks Polish). I did see a very young mixed race girl in the streets of a city and almost fell off my bike with astonishment. Considering that I myself am of a similar genetic mixture that might be seen as being rather an odd reaction, but I haven't seen myself in a mirror for a few weeks now and forget what I look like.

After spending almost three months now riding 80-90km a day I'm pretty good at ascertaining my body's needs; when I need to rest, when to give it fuel, when to sit down and write crap on a blog. However my bowels aren't in on this and seem to function completely independently of me as if they were operated by another machine. I have no idea as to what point in the day they'll start screaming at me. Perhaps that's why I've never been good at following my gut instincts; if they don't know what they're doing themselves, how the hell am I supposed to glean from them what they're thinking?

17th June 2011: It's not every day that an Estonian hitman tells you he loves you
       I arrived in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania in a wave of great expectaion. After all, this was European city of culture 2009. And just because the fact that Liverpool had won that same accolade just a year before doesn't take away from it's charm, okay. It has dozens of gorgeous churches, brimming with Baroque architecture and boasts a superb array of museums, theatres and galleries. At least that's what the tourist guide says; I was watching back to back episodes of The Wire. Incidentally, this is why this post may contain a lot of gangster references. I stayed in the apartment of the wonderful Rasa, a fellow Lindy Hopper. She also took me to meet some of her friends in her favourite bar, which she mentioned casually, is frequented by Lithuanian nationalists who may take exception to my ethnicity (but don't worry she said, you're with me (a young girl, even smaller than I am)). Sadly I didn't meet a single Nazi there. I had to wait till Estonia for that. True dat.

I have got a little bit bored with the same routine of packing away my tent, cycling for 100km, putting up my tent, and falling asleep. Northern Europe is all very pretty, but it's all much the same, each country with it's own unique history of being overrun by Germans, lush green forests (with a million mozzies) and ancient relics shaped to draw in the tourists. If I have to look at one more picturesque castle with a guide telling me what its dimensions are, I shall scream. Is there anybody out there who actually finds it interesting to look at a group of mannequins positioned as they would have done in a medieval blacksmiths of a quaint countryside village? I mean, they didn't even have mannequins back then. Fo' sure.

So fortunately I've met a real life hitman who has rekindled my passion for seeing this beautiful part of the world. I've just spent two hours (in the morning, note) 'talking' to this incredibly friendly Estonian who despite being possibly the scariest person I've ever met (this includes my old Geography teacher) I ended up rather liking. The relationship started off well when he and his friends went skinny
dipping in the lake where I'm currently staying, with the stereo blaring out horrendous Europop. He approached me (with towel round his manhood) as I was having my breakfast and asked the usual questions about where I'm from, why my eyes are so slitty, etc. He then told me in the most genial way his philosophy on life. It started out with Asian people are okay (because they work hard) but he can't stand niggers (not my words). His reasoning was mainly that they didn't work hard and had big dicks (and also, curiously because they didn't like being called 'niggers'). His friend helped out by adding that they are 'fuckfaces'. I smiled politely, my terror allowing me to repress my offence. He went on to offer me his food and beer (at 10am mind) and explained how Estonian people are incredibly friendly and like slaves, live to work and unlike us capitalists in the West, don't work for money. Looking at his very nice car, I foolishly asked him what he did for a living. He smiled and said he thought I wouldn't want to know. He merely said that he had never killed a human. But, he said, people who steal from those weaker than they are, are not human. He also mentioned the word 'lawyers' several times. He then asked me if I was gay, and with the answer to the negative gave me a hug (remember his towel) and told me he loved me. The conversation was going quite well, but I sadly had to leave to do something incredibly important (like run away), though there was just enough time for him to say how fond he was of Hitler. Well, he was a vegetarian so I can understand that. I'm just glad I had watched all those episodes of The Wire in preparation for this encounter.

July 6th 2011 Finland: Enjoy the Silence
Now, despite my lack of knowledge of classical music I shall attempt to make bold statements on this very subject and causal links to the wider Finnish culture. Bet you thought this post would just be another rambling inane bit of nonsense about going to the toilet and not a fascinating insight into the nuances of Baltic life and art eh? Your ignorance of actual facts on this subject is greatly appreciated, and I strongly discourage you to pursue further enquiry lest my hypotheses prove to be actually, more akin to sanitary meanderings. I shall begin. May you read in awe, and with a slight urgency to get to the end so you can start making the dinner.
     The symphonies of the great Finnish nationalist composer, Sibelius is marked by pronounced pauses. The rests or fermatas (that's a Wikipedia education for you there) are held by Sibelius to be just as important as the notes themselves, thus creating his distinct style. And in a likewise manner, the Finns approach their conversations with such an emphasis on these pauses. For a happy gabbing Brit like myself, this takes some getting used to as we are like conversational Mother Natures and despise a vacuum (and that doesn't mean we dislike Dysons or Henrys). Every spare second of our exchanges has to be filled with some kind of sound lest God forbid, we discover that we have nothing to say. The Finns, in contrast, are quite happy to dispense with unnecessary statements about the weather and how I took the A416 to get to my destination, rather than the A429 and I found it actually to be a much more pleasant ride. They let long pauses rest between each sentence making a conversation feel rather like being in a play by Harold
Pinter. I find myself expecting two burly authoritative figures to drag me away to some unknown destination.

     Fortunately there are also rather long pauses between seeing actual people as dwellings are pretty scanty out here. In fact I've almost forgotten what human beings actually look like, and I certainly haven't seen my own face in several weeks. Which is just as well, as the last time I did I thought a proto-human had taken over my body and was now staring back at himself. Must have a shave.
     And just to hark back to earlier times; you may be interested that the word for 'shop' in Estonia is 'Pood', which I find hilarious, though it does make me want to go to the toilet immediately. And those Estonian shopkeepers do get so annoyed when I start squatting next to the cold meat counter.
There you go: classical music and defecation. Something for everyone.

13th August 2011: In Sweden it's apparently normal to shower with 14 year old boys

Now I just want to stress after writing that sentence that I haven't found a new hobby or predilection for paedophilic tendencies, and I certainly take no pleasure in this activity other than the joy of cleansing myself. I didn't even get an erection.
So on my first day in Sweden I made it to Herräng Dance camp where I was to stay for over a month, taking a break from cycling all day to instead dancing all day. My thighs have formed all sorts of weird muscles that seem to counteract each other rather than make me stronger. I set up my tent happy in the knowledge that I wouldn't have to take it down again for another 5 weeks and headed off to my first shower in several days, scattering flies in the process who were eager to avoid the walking mass of body odour. Thirty seconds into the shower a young lad came in, stripped and proceeded to shower next to me happily singing his little heart out. Remembering my stiff upper lip (I said lip) I merely continued to lather myself trying not to panic in case a journalist from the British media happened to be outside in ready anticipation to capture another evil kiddy-fiddler.
For the non-swing dancers amongst you who have never heard of Herräng, it is a small village in central Sweden which for five weeks of the year hosts the largest festival for Jazz dance in the world. This in itself is a bit bonkers; a dance style that was developed amongst African-Americans in New York in the 1930s now has its Mecca amongst the whitest people on the planet. After all, you can't get much more honky than the Swedish. It is a whirling mix of music, eccentricity and influenza where you find some of the most incredibly talented and intrinsically cool people rubbing shoulders with some of the most nerdiest and socially inadequate (I'm clearly amongst the first group, though some may argue with that).
I spent most of the time dancing, eating or playing Backgammon. Occasionally I would throw a sleeping session in there but I tried to keep that nonsense to a minimum. I danced sometimes until the small hours, leaving a few other revellers on the dancefloor who wouldn't come down from their Lindy high until 9am. I would like to take this opportunity to say that I'm now an accomplished dancer. I would like to, but unfortunately I'm still stumbling around, occasionally dropping women on top of other dancers and generally realising that I'm not perfect (hate it when that happens). To be fair I only dropped one woman on one other dancer and I saw the guy walking around perfectly okay the next day. I mean he had to use a crutch to assist him, but he was motoring around on that thing like nobody's business. The wonderful Jenny arrived to keep me entertained for all too short a time. Perhaps one day we'll get to spend more than a week together.

Most of all I've met some very interesting characters, not least Claudio an Italian who had been living in Helsinki for five years. When I asked him what he did he replied “Nothing much, just living”. It turned out that he made money from ads on his webpage advising people on how to find jobs. That seemed pretty normal until I found out he had never been to an interview in his life. He's now wanting to branch out and has just finished his first book of womens' erotic fiction.
Then there was Daniel from Sweden who now lives in central England, hand making mens' shoes (or a tiny part of the shoe to be more precise). This has been a career change from his previous occupation of breeding lizards. Added to that you have characters like the über good looking Bobby from the U.S. who dances for the likes of Kylie and used to be a Mormon.
The problem of hanging around such talented, interesting people is that I inevitably make infavourable comparisons with my own rather average life. I can relate to Edmund Blackadder who notes “It is said that civilised man seeks out good and intelligent company, so that through learned discourse he may rise above the savage and closer to God. Personally, however, I like to start the day with a total dickhead to remind me I'm best”. Where's a Republican when you need one?

4th September 2011 Oh look it's raining. I must be in Norway.
Ah, luscious Norway. Stunning mountain scenery, fiendish-looking wildlife, wide opulent rivers. And flippin' 'eck can it rain round here. I've been here over two weeks and haven't seen a single day without an outburst or two. Usually on this trip when the heavens have opened and I have needed shelter, I have taken the opportunity to find a cafe and sip a coffee until the torrent has passed. Unfortunately in this country of plenty, I can't actually afford the £4 for a cup of the black stuff and simply have to sit under a bus shelter, dripping and praying for precipitous clemency. Furthermore, there are many times in Norway when I have found myself in terrain devoid of either buses, coffee dispensers or even German tourists and just have to ride on through the downpour.

On the other hand, Norway is simply the most beautiful country I've seen in my globe-trotting career. Coming in from Sweden where the excitement of seeing pine forests for miles upon miles is sometimes overbearing, Norway is like a fresh wet slap on the face, at once drenching you but also awakening your senses to the sheer awe only nature can give you. I suspect when God was making the world, He started excitedly with Norway on the first day and then got progressively bored as he moved around northern Europe, merely planting endless rows of pine trees. I guess we can all overstretch ourselves too early.

So sadly my trip is drawing to a close and I have just another month left of this trip where I shall take the dramatic move of going to Spain with Jenny. The notion of returning to the UK fills me with dread. Despite the constant tiredness and foregoing of life's little luxuries on this tour, I can foresee real life beckoning me again with a bony outstretched finger, bidding me to clamber aboard its boat and row across the lake to the other side. On the other hand I am looking forwards to being able to afford to buy a chocolate bar.

31st October Back in London: Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
      Holy crap real life sucks. I've been back for three weeks now and find myself rather inclined to self-pity. Without even a breath I've moored myself back into the world of technical theatre once again.
     About a week before I came back I started to have the dread of returning. A hideous ghoulish monster with a forked tail stood over me, holding a placard saying "Welcome to London Mr Lam, may I be of service?". 
     Jenny (who's not the monster incidentally, she just happens to be the next person I mention) has told me just to get over myself; life isn't that bad, etc and despite the grudging knowledge that I know she's right I'd really rather just stick my head down the crack of a settee, breathing in old bits of popcorn, peanuts and pen lids that may have channelled their way into furniture obscurity.
      I was going to start firing off applications today, researching into my latest great idea to find a different career (idea #352: work in the renewable energy sector), try to find some dance event that I can fit around work, and instead I return to you, my sweet blog to find solace in your illuminated pixels and hope that you will understand the malaise under my skin.
      The final leg of my journey back involved taking 4 ferries in a month, with water choppier than a Chinese kitchen (it's okay, I'm allowed to be racist). I cycled 157km in one day to get to the port in Norway to go to Denmark. Once there I realise why the Danish may have wanted to put on pointy hats, grow beards and pillage the rest of Europe. If ever I've seen a land that makes me want to go back to Latvia and cycle through 2000km of pine forest, it's Denmark. On my first night it was so rainy I ended up staying in the shower cubicle of a campsite. It was actually pretty nice bearing in mind I didn't actually pay for it (I've learnt a fair bit of pillaging myself over the last few months; I feel I've avenged my forefather's anger against the Vikings plunder by stealing a fair number of toilet rolls from cafes).
      I then took the ferry back to the UK after three solid days of Danish rain (no wonder Hamlet was depressed; I doubt it was his dead dad causing him such melancholy, just the endless tirade of fucking rain). On the boat a Scottish accent asked me "Excuse me, did you go to Newcastle University?", and lo and behold there stood Tim, a chap I was in a play with 16 years ago. He and his wife live between Stockholm and Norwich (as in they spend time at each place, they don't live somewhere over the north sea). After just having a child, they are pondering what to do with their 13 months ma/paternity leave. Now, I'm no expert in running countries (I am barely able to run a bath these days) but I reckon having a society where you actually get to spend time with your kids is probably good for them. In fact talking to people who live in Scandinavia, the main complaint I can tell is that they have too much money. Boo hoo hoo. Oh, and their beer is crap. But for 13 months paternity leave, I reckon I could stick to a Fanta most days. I just need to have a baby. And move to Scandinavia. Oh yes, and get a job. Ah well.
       Jenny met me at the port in Essex. She's wonderful. I may be in trouble if I don't mention this fairly regularly so forgive me for breaking the flow of sentences to mention it (that she's wonderful that is). We cycled back to London where I don't believe I've ever been so terrified riding around in my life. People don't really live in a place like this do they? How can you spend the day without killing somebody? Or perhaps that's how we keep the population down. This is clearly a justification for bringing more immigrants to the city: if we don't have fresh blood to kill we'll all turn into lunatics.
But seriously: London is by far, by far, the most dangerous place that I've cycled in the last 7 months. Just seeing Jenny (she's wonderful) cutting in between cars gave me palpitations that had nothing to do with seeing her in lycra.
      We then got down to Portsmouth and took the ferry to Santander, which I've discovered is not just a bank, but also a city. A city mainly comprised of banks called Santander that is.

      Spain is amazing for cycle touring. As long as you don't mind climbing 1500 metre hills in 35° heat of course. I was very impressed with Jenny (who's wonderful by the way) for despite not having any training, was able to make it up the mountains towards the Camino de Santiago. The Camino is a pilgrims' trail which has been going for about a millennia after the bones of the apostle St James (one of Jesus' homeboys) were found and taken to a church in Galicia which is now the cathedral of Santiago. I resisted the temptation to ask other pilgrims how they actually knew these were the bones of an apostle but I've read that recent DNA testing have conclusively proven that yes, these are the bones of someone.
      So we spent three weeks in wonderful countryside, eating the fruits of the land (mainly from Carrefour) and drinking bottles of delicious red wine for €2. See photos for transportation of said bottles. We pitched our tent anywhere we could, and occasionally treated ourselves to three course meals for €9 (including wine of course). The sun was out every day and despite being in Spain, I didn't see a single British teenager vomitting or having sex in the streets. Happy days.
       And now I'm in London. Stressed and clueless about what to do. I need to find something else to do with my life than putting up lights for a living, or at the very least find something that means I get to have a social life, and possibly, just possibly get to see Jenny (who is wonderful). 
      Idea #353: become a cycle courier. It is winter after all.


  1. Long awaited and equally as funny. More though!

  2. side splitting - mine in laughter, yours, it would appear, going up and down spurious mountains...

    by Lesley ,not Imogen I'll have you know xx

  3. hee hee he heeeee hee,......missed you in `berlin my man.......sorry dude......Sweden it is then x

  4. Idea #354. Become a writer. Great blog.

  5. got to agree with #354, some of the most entertaining ramblings I've read for a long time. You are a natural and should try and make a living out of this

  6. Thanks chaps! May get round to it at some point in my life. Mucho lovo.