This Sunday I had the pleasure of being the volunteer photographer for this year’s Vintage Velo bike ride. This was the fourth annual edition of the Tweed Run-style jaunt which is held each year as a fundraiser for the Bristol Cycle Festival. My bicycle Petal and I both got a bit dressed up for the occasion. You can see here Petal’s lovely bunting, which I made for her, in between snapping pics, at the ‘Bunt up your Bike’ stall near the registration area. She’s looking rather sweet, don’t you think? (There is no photograph of her rider, I’m afraid!) Well over 100 cyclists donned their vintage finery and took to their two-wheeled steeds (of any and all vintages) to ride through the sunny Sunday afternoon to our mystery destination… …which was the rather grand Kings Weston House to the north of Bristol. I say! All in all it was a lovely day, even if I did end up at one point stranded briefly behind a doubledecker sightseeing bus circling the Downs, after stopping to photograph my fellow cyclists. If you did want to see a photograph of me on the ride, you can ask the tourist at the back of the bus who took my photo as I pedalled to catch up to the group. I smiled very nicely! I do aim to entertain. Late afternoon, once I’d had taken in my fill of sunshine on the lawn, I departed for home, riding back along the Portway. I couldn’t resist stopping to snap a shot of our iconic suspension bridge. And our muddy Avon too. Bristol love!
For many weeks I’ve been on a go-slow, drinking coffee each morning while reading about living and dying. Then on work days I’d take a bus, swinging past the Downs, shops, signs, sometimes juddering to a stop in road works. Resting. Today I rejoined the cycling to work contingent (and drank my coffee in the office instead, while starting Outlook for the day). I felt the goodness of cycling, being under my own power. Swooshing down hills, and smiling.
I passed ripe sloes the other day as I walked from the bus to the office. Today I went back to pick a few at lunchtime, expecting to end up with nothing more than a largish handful, but there were many, many, many. I picked and picked. I caught snatches of conversation from across the road where a woman and her kids discussed the scene: “Blackberries? No…elderberries.” “No, no,” I thought. “Sloes. The fruit of the blackthorn tree.” Then I heard an “excuse me” and there was the family, in the car in their drive, ready to pull out. Curiosity was expressed. “They’re sloes, like little plums,” I said. “You can make sloe gin with them.”
I think I spent over half an hour picking sloes. Later on I cycled them home, tucked up safe in a pannier. Tonight I have pored over them, removing stems and leaves, piling them high in a colander. Lovely, lovely sloes. I will make sloe gin with you.
I made elderflower vinegar earlier this summer, with elderflowers I somehow managed to catch. I was sure I was to miss them this year. But I didn’t, so made a bit of bottled sunshine, good on salads. The other end of the summer will bring the elderberries. I want to catch them too if I can, before they’re gone, and make a tonic to spice up colder days (and keep winter ailments at bay).
I guess there are always things you will miss when you travel away from home, even if you’re visiting another place that’s ‘home’. Two things I have been missing while away from Bristol for the holidays: yoga and my trusty bike (whose name I now think is Petal, though she doesn’t always answer when I call her). Ah, to cycle in the warm sun on flat roads! Ok, Bristol isn’t entirely made up of hills and isn’t entirely devoid of sunshine, but you know, it’s December, or January (depending on the time zone) and, well…some people will know what I mean.
Anyway, no bike here. But yoga, yes. My brother and his girlfriend wanted to find a class while in town and thought, correctly, that I might be similarly inclined. They researched what was on offer and I awaited their findings. The class they turned up was a 90-minute Bikram Method class. Was I still interested? Now, I had never been to a Bikram class before, though I’d heard tales from those taking up introductory offers in Bristol. Lives being taken over during the introductory month! Sweat and money pouring out everywhere! Was it strangely regimented or something? If I tried it, would I keel over and be expelled from the class (like so much student sweat)?!
Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Reviews of the studio in question suggested that there would be “no shouting”. This we found encouraging. In fact, not only was there no shouting, the place we went to, Yoga Vida, was really welcoming. There was a lot of sweating, of course, but there was also encouragement and humour. And I felt great doing it and felt great afterwards. Yoga, I said I’d missed you!
Awww, a happy ending to this tale. How nice. Another thing I’ve missed of late is writing this blog. So here I am again. Watch out.
Ahem, due to starting a new job last week, I have neglected to update my blog. But here I am, keeping up my (just about, if you squint) weekly posts.
Monday I cycled to work for the very first time. Love it! Especially since I have a route that goes along a river. More on that in a second.
And today I finally put one of the bike stickers I bought in Tucson several years ago onto the bike. Stunning.
My bicycle doesn’t have a name yet. I wonder what I’ll call her…
Really, I am finding it so much nicer to cycle to and from work than to walk. It’s like a little treat to top and tail the work day.
My riverside route does take me through clouds of gnats, though. I wonder things like: have I eaten any today? Are they stuck in my teeth? How many have smashed themselves on the windscreens of my eyeballs? Am I wearing any in my hair? Important questions.
Today I walked with my purple Peugeot bicycle to the recycling centre, waved goodbye (mentally, that is), and walked home alone.
‘Old Clunker’ – as I started calling her just yesterday as I selected my ‘new’ used bike – was secondhand when I bought her in Bridgwater, Somerset the better part of a decade ago. She has since moved house with me three times and was eventually the bike on which I had my first cycle training session last year (to build up confidence after years of not riding). Ultimately, and overall in her time with me, she was more symbolic of me as a cyclist than she was an actual practical tool of cycling. Her gear shifters were stiff, rust laced her purple sheen and the last time I rode her it took about five seconds to get tired with her seat too low and rust, of course, holding the adjusting bolt securely in place. I’ve honed my skills and confidence on a borrowed bike instead.
So, no I don’t believe I’ll miss her, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t matter to me. I just grew up a bit and had to say farewell to clear the space in my life for my new ride, who’s having her mud guards and lights fitted, and I pick her up on Tuesday! Now this is a bicycle for riding. I can’t wait…
Last year I wrote about the frustrations of unemployment and the joys of getting back into cycling. For me, both have taken strength, the occasional dose of courage and lots of perseverence.
With cycling I had to face my fear of mixing with faster, more “menacing” traffic. Like so much in life, I realised it is so much easier when you give yourself permission to take up the space you need to take up. Simple as that. And that if you don’t take a risk you give up the chance to feel the wind in your face and your hair as you hurtle down National Cycle Route 4 (yee haw!).
And a few other things worth noting.
1. The other traffic is mostly non-menacing. It’s just traffic. Like me, like you.
2a. One should not take one’s legs for granted.
2b. A sense of silliness keeps one from becoming too dull. One hopes.
I pledge allegiance to my legs and their united state of happy exhaustion, and to my feet on which I stand, one woman, under the sky, indefatigable, with licorice and rock cakes for all.
In times of trouble you gotta do the things that make you happy…
The cycle training was a success. I can now ride my bike down the street without fear! I can use my gears in a halfway sensible manner! Gravity and hills are not my ultimate enemies! Wow, I am excited and inspired and just wish it would stop raining for long enough to let me get out there and keep practising the art of looking behind myself without wobbling.
Next lesson will involve venturing onto bigger, busier roads, a bit of route planning and who knows what else. It’s amazing how much of a confidence boost you can get in an hour. Even on a creaky old bike like mine.
I seemed to be a bit dazed for a while by all the ingredients in my cupboard and found myself making the same sorts of things I did while I was travelling around and staying in hostels. Nothing wrong with that but then I was like, come on Kramer, jazz it up a bit. But I’ve started to get back into my rhythm, inventing all sorts of dishes, some of which have been gorgeous to look at. Wish I had a photo of my veg stew with beetroot – a rainbow in a bowl. (Although the leftovers the next night were decidedly red/purple – that’s bossy beetroot for you.)
Then I decided I was going to bake myself a polenta pie. With spinach and feta, I think. Mm. Only thing holding me back is that the supermarket only had ready-made polenta. Not useful for my purposes, so I’ll have to wait until I can get to somewhere that sells what I need.
In the meantime, my other baking project. Tonight I’ve been sheltering from a rainy night in a warm kitchen – with Led Zeppelin blaring out of the speakers – and baking carrot bread. And by bread in this context I mean a sort of cake, but uh not carrot cake… It’s bread like banana bread is bread. If you’re American (or a quick study) you know what I mean. If you’re British, you’re probably not paying attention, as you’re too busy boiling the kettle at the mention of cake.
My tried and tested recipe comes from Nava Atlas’s Vegetariana but there are two extra ingredients I’ve introduced this time. One is tinned pineapple chunks. Just a few, for extra sweetness and moistness. The other, well… If you’ve read Like Water for Chocolate, or have seen the film, you may recall Tita’s secret is to make her food “with love”. I hope I’ve baked my bread with love too, but there’s more. I’m also inclined to believe this loaf will be extra good because it was baked with rock ‘n’ roll.
Wander into the mud with a camera!
One moment you’re marvelling at the glorious sunshine. A second later you’re eyes have completed one full blink and the heavens have opened. Ah, good, springtime in Bristol. Always nice to catch a few signs of the season on camera.
I don’t like being unemployed anymore. As in unemployed and not travelling. Being unemployed because you’re travelling, now that’s great. There’s a purpose to that. Right? It’s fun anyway: life’s an adventure and anything is possible.
I’d like to say I’m treating every day, right here in Bristol, with the adventurous attitude of the traveller. I do sometimes, and that’s great. I do my best the rest of the time, and that’s ok too. But…well…it can be hard.
Nonetheless, alongside trying to sort out my work life and whatever else, I’ve been working on achieving another goal. Something that’s really quite important to me. Something I’ve faffed about with pretty much since I came to Bristol. Or longer really. I am going to become the cyclist I have for years envisioned myself to be!
Oooh, wow. Don’t laugh. You see, I can ride a bike fine. I’ve even quite recently thrown myself around a New Zealand forest on a mountain bike. But: I’m scared of traffic, not all that hot on the correct use of gears and get stopped at times by an annoying mix of gravity and the mildest of hills. And then just the other day I investigated and realised that my bike, which had suffered, al fresco, through the British winter in my absence, was in need of mechanical help. The brake pads were rubbing on the wheels, creating a horrible squeaking. But I arranged for a knight in shining armour (or a fetching fleece anyway) to be sent, free of charge, courtesy of the Cycling City project. All fixed now. Fantastic!
Next stop: my first cycle training session on Wednesday. Watch out, world!