Category Archives: Festivals

Leaving Ireland with Melancholy and Hope

17 – 22 August 2015 (Days 84 – 89 of my Midlife Gapyear)

Monday 17 August 11:30 am – Flanders Cross

And just like that, time is fleeting. The Kilkenny Arts Festival is finished and all my new acquaintances have begun to fade away.

I returned to Kilkenny via Dublin sharing a festival courtesy car with American author Jane Smiley and her husband Jack. They were both lovely. We talked about Australia. (Jane wondered why the people of Adelaide think so little of their city. “They live there even when the festivals are over,” I said). Not surprisingly, for an Iowa person, she has Chicago connections; I said that I grew up in the Skokie part of Evanston, “I see,” she said, “why you moved to Australia.”

Once back in town I was, again, helping Cornelia and Hazel. Then we had dinner and went to Druid Shakespeare. There we met a friend of Cornelia and her sister from Australia. Perhaps she missed that I’m from Sydney – when I asked where she was from she said 4 ½ hours north of Sydney. Yeah, where abouts? Sort of Armidale – yeah, where abouts? Walcha. Oh, sure, I know Walcha – inland from Port Macquarie. She was amazed.

When we were leaving Druid Cornelia exclaimed at how terrible that actress’ voice was. I’m glad I wasn’t alone in my opinion. She’s like some sort of Nicole Kidman-looking love child of William Shatner and Al Pacino.

We went on to The Set Theatre for the Brooklyn Rider, Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill Marble City Session. So good – such beautiful, beautiful playing. I saw Robert Pinsky there at the end of the show and it pleased me that it pleased him to see me, “I thought you’d gone,” he said.

Then yesterday, Sunday, was the last day of the festival.  The finale gig at the Cathedral was fantastic – really amazing.

I expect to long have very fond memories of this time here – my time spent on the festival – the people I’ve met, the performances I’ve seen.

Monday 17 August – 5:55 pm, Kilkenny

I’ve gone and bought watercolours. I won’t paint if I don’t have them, now I do, so it’s a matter of finding time to use them.

Cornelia and Matthew are mother/son-ing. I’ve had an ice cream at Kitty’s Cabin. A gaggle of local youths hang about nearby with their ubiquitous hurling sticks – I wonder how often they are used as weapons?

Tuesday 18 August 12:40 pm – Waterford, The Larder

It’s a beautiful day – sunny and warm.

My bike is having it’s wheels trued. I’ve wandered Waterford – basically to find places: bicycle shops, phone repairs. My phone – the cable connection is fucked – is irreparable (a lesson in getting something unbranded).

The coffee here, at the Larder, is passable and I’ve had a nice chat with the proprietor – Patrick Murphy (really, he was born in England of an English mother and Irish father, they didn’t think they’d be moving back, but they did when he was four).

He’d been in retail most of his career but decided a couple of years ago to take a crack at a café. He was talking of Celtic Tiger times when everyone was flush. He worked at an electronics retailer and new TVs came in. He went to discuss how to display them and the manager said just stack them by the door – they’ll sell. Patrick was like ‘is this what this trade I’ve been working in all these years, the skills I’ve gained, come to?” He quit that day. He told this story to say all that all that wealth had made the Irish loose and careless with money. One good thing to come of the GFC, he thinks, is that people care more about quality now and this has something to do with the improvement of coffee in Ireland (though, let’s be honest, they still have a way to come).

I’m feeling keen to be riding again and also a bit weird that I’ll soon leave this place. And a little – just mildly – disappointed for not having gotten more writing done. But this week remains.

4:10 pm – At the library

Cornelia described this building as a Celtic Tiger building. Built to be a mall with major retailers but left standing empty when the GFC hit. It’s still basically empty but with council business – a library and regional office in part of it.

I have to admit that Robert has taken a hold in a space in my brain. I think the conversation I had with him was among the best I’ve had on this trip. I really enjoyed swapping Clinton stories with him and talking about American politics with someone quite attuned with the ways of that world.  I’m not sure I’ve recorded some of the Hillary Clinton stories he shared. He was a young professor at Wellesley while she was there. He was teaching an American Poetry class to arty young women who were sure the revolution had come or was nearly upon them, it was 1968. They were discussing a poem which mentioned a lawyer. And the response was “who would want to be a lawyer, or marry a lawyer? Ugh, how horrible”. And then a few of them saying “Hillary Rodham” chuckle, chuckle. It was the first time he heard her name.

He was at the commencement where she spoke. It had been the tradition of the school that a student did not speak – she was the first – and it was controversial. The main speaker – who went before her – was US Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, African-American and Republican; he spoke of patience and incremental change, of letting the system work. Hillary, in response, abandoned her prepared text to say something along the lines of, “Senator, we were hoping you’d have something to say about how we can solve these problems, etc.” Robert said that it was measured and well-delivered – that he went away thinking: This is an impressive person.

Hazel asked him about his Simpsons’ experience. He had flown to LA just before 9/11 – on one of the same flights that was highjacked on the day. He imagines (or knows) it was the same crew from his flight that would have been on that one. With air travel grounded, he was stuck in LA. The Simpsons crew took him under their wings. “In my circle, I’m considered by some to be funny,” he said, “but with them I felt an amateur surrounded by Olympians.”

I’d be quite pleased to make a friendship of it.

Wednesday 19 August – 10:22 am, Flanders Cross

Wispy clouds washed pink by sunset with crescent moon.
One of my final Irish sunsets.

On the drive home last night Cornelia said of her mother, “Her worry is deep and awesome.” I thought that was beautiful.

We were on our way from Waterford and stopped in at Bobbi’s where we were invited in for a glass of wine. She and her youngest daughter live in this mad beautiful manor house with views of green rolling hills and sheep. She lived in Australia for six years in the 1970s working as a station cook in the Outback. She told a story of visiting an Aboriginal community south of Katherine with a didgeridoo player of her acquaintance.

9:07 pm – Flinders Cross

I’m really beginning to stress out about whatever comes next. I was hoping to visit the French family with whom I rode in Wales in Caen. They’ve had to cancel – which puts me at a looser end.

I am looking at a two-week German class. Is that a good investment? Worthwhile? Or should I just ride from Cherbourg and stop worrying? Should I head to Germany on the shortest line? Or the Belgian border following the coast? Find the quickest way out of France? Or spend another €100 on the train out? Fuck if I know. Fuck if I know. I’m ready to go – but to where?

I emailed Robert Pinsky today – anxious to see if he replies and if he does, how.

Thursday 20 August, 7:17 pm – Flanders Cross

This morning I woke stressed by indecision, of uncertainty about where to go, and how to spend my time.

Cornelia suggested that I settle in somewhere for a month. This led to the idea of doing a four-week German course in January rather than two-weeks in October. It makes so much sense. I’ll sleep on it but it feels right and like a burden has been lifted. I can just ride from Cherbourg – head up the coast, the D-Day beaches. I’ll get to Berlin in time for my flight, easy.

And then I had an email reply from Robert Pinsky. Which pleased me.

I’ve dipped into his Selected Poems and think I’m going to like his stuff.

I have never been good at reading poetry.

I like to read faster than poetry invites. Poetry seems to require a deliberative reading which I have, so far, been unwilling to offer.

But maybe now is the time. Maybe it’s the time in my life to be a reader of poetry. Perhaps even a writer of poetry. And perhaps my meeting Robert is a bit of influencing good fortune.

Friday 21 August 12:25 pm – Umi Falafel, Dublin

I woke early. I’m excited about getting going again. I like the plans I’ve settled on. Glenn was coming up to Dublin, so I’ve tagged along to look for knicks and eat at this restaurant again.

I quite like this from Robert’s Gulf Music:

“… but the immigration papers did

Require him to renounce all loyalty to Czar Nicholas

As he signed, he must have thought to himself

The Yiddish equivalent of ‘No problem’, Mah la belle”

11:41 pm – Flanders Cross

Things are happening as they ought: I only rode 15 km in Ireland; I’ll study German in January; meeting Robert. As is ought. Fortuitous but as they ought to be.

To read and write and paint and take my time. To think and meet and learn. Poetry, reading poetry, enforces deliberation. Deliberation is good.

We’ll see, we’ll see.

Saturday 22 August, 4:05 pm – Pulling out of Rosslare

Farewell, farewell Ireland. I’m feeling a little wistful, a little sad to go. My time here was spent in unexpected ways – but it was good for me. Friendships made, forged. Decisions. Ideas. Realisations. Just settling in for a time.

A family - mum, dad, and pre-teen son and daughter, with me - standing in a green field, arms around each other.
With my Irish family

6:00 pm

I’m reading family scenes in Jane Smiley’s Some Luck and looking at the groups all around me.

There were dolphins – everyone rushed to the window to look – not me. I didn’t want to leave all my stuff at this table un-monitored.

I am alone again.

A melancholy selfie of a woman in a blue jumper on the deck of a ferry, cloudy day, dark sea, a bit of Ireland in the distance.
On my own again, farewell Ireland.

9:00 pm

I’ve painted a watercolour of the sea beyond my window while listening to a podcast of Robert speaking on modernism someplace once upon a time. He’s a smart man, knowledgeable and interesting – which shouldn’t be surprising, he’s been at this thing he does for 50 years.

Here’s the thing about the intelligence others see in me, and which I see too, albeit less clearly – why can’t I figure out what to do with it? How to use my smarts, my talents, to produce, to create – to leave something?

Listening to RP, reading his stuff. Reading Jane Smiley’s novel. Admiring all the artists at Kilkenny, I feel the twinges of regret for having not done more with my 46 years.

Time to retreat to my cabin to eat biscuits. Tomorrow I ride. And seek. Seek. Something. What am I seeking? I don’t really know. But, in the meantime. Just. Be. Here. Now.

The gloaming: Low clouds over a gently rolling strip of Ireland on the horizon, the foreground calm steel-coloured sea.
Goodbye Ireland

In Ireland They Offer Chips with Your Chinese Food: Tuesday 11 August 2015 (Day 79)

9:10 pm: A Chinese Restaurant, Kilkenny

I may regret this but I’m so hungry. I’ve ordered sweet and sour chicken – it’s like battered and fried balls of chicken in the usual flouro sauce. It’s Ireland: I had the choice of rice or chips.

Being here, in Kilkenny, is becoming normal. I run into familiar people on the street. I know my way around town really well. After a couple of months on the road, of being someplace new every day, every hour, this is nice – this being of a place and part of a community.

I slept in this morning and woke to find Jim practicing in the loungeroom, for his gig tonight. I booked my bus ticket from Dublin to Belfast but failed to do the same for the train on to Derry because Northern Irish Rail’s website is shit.

Jim and I drove into Kilkenny. While he was looking for parking I spotted Cornelia at the Gourmet Café so I jumped out to see her. She was just off – I had a sandwich and coffee and solved a crossword challenge two blokes were having – by changing ‘interior’ to ‘internal’.

I was stuck in the queue as Jim began playing in the Luminarium but Mali, our friend with the crew there, spotted me and brought me in the back door.

Look who's playing in the Luminarium.
Look who’s playing in the Luminarium.

It was a mighty strange gig but Jim enjoyed himself – he should have had an amp as the sound just didn’t carry. He played mandolin and guitar. Cornelia was there for a time. And a lot of children. Unrestrained small children.

Mali said, “The Irish have so many children.” Jim played Say Your Prayers and I sang along, tunelessly, as I do. It turns out one of my favourite songs he plays is  Albatross by Fleetwood Mac. I’d heard him do it many times before but hadn’t realised it was a cover. It’s really calming and lovely.

Walking back to the Gourmet we passed a group of kids tossing a hurling ball around in the castle grounds, among them a Sudanese teenager as agile and fluid with his hurly as any of his paler skinned mates. It was beautiful.

I helped out around town this afternoon and caught part of The Gloaming’s show at the Cathedral. Amazing music played to a packed house.

Poetry, Light, Ice Cream and Friendship on a Beaut Irish Summer Day: Monday 10 August 2015 (Day 78)

11:20 am – The Gourmet Store Café, Kilkenny

We are finally getting a run of sunny and warm days. Cornelia says this sort of day is exactly what one hopes for when thinking of an Irish summer’s day.

7:30 pm – Zuni Café

I’m feeling like a local. I know where everything is and I run into people I know on the street.

At the café this morning Hazel, Cornelia’s right-hand gal, passed by with Robert Pinsky. He’s just arrived from Boston and they were looking for an Irish SIM card for him but said they’d come back for coffee.

I read the blurb about him in the festival catalogue and had just started in on his Wikipedia page when they returned.

I learned he was US Poet Laureate from 1997 to 2000. He’s a poet, obviously, and an academic at Boston University. Jewish, from New Jersey. That’s about all I knew as we started chatting.

Cornelia had to go and Hazel, while she stayed on, was hard at work at other tasks – so Robert and I had a nice chat about American politics, guns, violence, Australia, John Howard & guns, etc. He hasn’t yet visited Australia, but would like to – this seems a worthy project to help with.

The rest of the morning I ran around for Cornelia. I delivered lunch to an organist at the Cathedral. And I picnicked outside St John’s Priory – pressing my ear to the stained glass to hear the Bach Cello Concerto being played within.

At 4pm I went to the Rothe House Garden for Robert’s “Secret Garden” performance, which was quite good.

Afterwards Cornelia and I took him to the Architects of the Air installation.

The Luminarium is a pneumatic sculpture (one filled with air) constructed of specially designed plastics where the colours of the material and the design of thinner bits illuminate the inside just by the natural light.

Here’s how the artists describe it:

Each luminarium is a dazzling maze of winding paths and soaring dorms where Islamic architecture, Archimedian solids and Gothic cathedrals meld into an inspiring monument to the beauty of light and colour.

The domes are the large chambers rising up to 10 metres high that provide the focal points. The tunnels connect the domes and determine the journey the visitor will take. The luminaria also feature ‘pods’ – alcoves where people can sit and relax out of the way of the other visitors.

Each luminarium is made up of around 20 elements that are zipped together on site to typically occupy an area of 1000 square metres. Easy to erect, laying out the structure and anchoring can take as little as 4 hours then, in just 20 minutes, the luminarium is inflated to its monumental size.

Inside the Luminiarium
Inside the Luminiarium (Photo by Glenn Lucas)

W got ice cream and sat in the Butler House Gardens. He was, I think, just trying to keep going to keep jet-lag at bay. A plight I well understand. Cornelia had to go and left me to see Robert back to is hotel but first we lingered.

We chatted away about politics and swapped Clinton stories. He told me about his Favorite Poem Project, which he began as Poet Laureate and continues. They hold events where everyday people share their favourite poems and there’s a web site with videos of people sharing their favourite poems.

It’s been quite a while since I’d had such a long chat about stuff I know and care about with someone who knows as much or more about the same stuff – if that makes sense. The conversation was very enjoyable and unlike any I’d had recently. He gave me his card … if I get to Boston I’ll drop him a line.

Now I’m sitting at Zuni having had a glass of white wine and a serve of chips. I’m waiting on Cornelia to return. My face is sunburnt and I’m very sleepy.

Cornelia arrived and we ordered some more wine and, then, Jim!

Me and Jim (last seen at Sydney Airport 72 days ago)
Me and Jim (last seen at Sydney Airport 72 days ago)

Oh, my goodness how nice it is to see him. I’ve seen a few old friends along the way and made many new ones but I hadn’t seen anyone from my immediate, loving, fabulous circle of Sydney friends for 78 days (when Jim and Vickianne saw me off at the airport) and now, here, was one of my besties and someone I’ve known for 27 years. I think I got a little teary.

Shifting Attitude, Celebrating Art at the Arts Festival: Saturday 8 August 2015 (Day 76)

Saturday 8 August, 6:30 pm – Langston House Hotel (Kilkenny)

Attitude. It’s really a bit about attitude. I’m here. Doing this. Be here. Do this. I’ll sort the rest as it comes. I’ve made decisions which, now made, are as they will be. I’ll be in Ireland until 22 August. Deal with it. Enjoy it.

So, I’ve had a pretty full day with the festival.

I helped Cornelia with this and that before completing a 3 ½ hour shift at Cleary Connolly’s Meta-Perceptual Helmets – which was actually quite good. I met the artists. They are former architects. The project is about how we’d see the world differently with different eyes. They’ve designed a heap, but only made these five so far. They are aluminium and sleek, shiny, with a back like a time-trial helmet with optical contraptions which allow the wearer to see the world like a … cat, horse, giraffe, hammerhead shark, chameleon. It’s set up in the garden of Rothe House.

When my shift ended, I made my way to the Cathedral to find Cornelia and continue to be helpful.

Concert at the Cathedral
Concert at the Cathedral

At the tail end of the day I caught a bit of the beautiful performance by Toumani & Sidiki Diabate

Utterly gorgeous.

This isn’t from Kilkenny but give you a good taste of their work.

Be Here Now, Be Here Now, Repeat: Friday 7 August 2015 (Day 75)

Kilkenny and County Carlow:

What am I thinking? Why am I here?

I feel like the trip has come off the rails a little bit and that I’m stuck in Kilkenny-ish. The ish being stuck-ish.

I feel like maybe I’m spending more time in Ireland than I need to. Though it is pleasant and relatively cheap and filling non-Schengen time. And I’m making decisions and having realisations.

I’ve  gotten an hour’s work done today and otherwise just been … in a town I was bored with after the first hour a week ago. I feel I’ve made mistakes that have me here – to an Irish bog. I want to magically be back on the Continent and pedalling on to a next destination. And I feel like I can’t expedite that process, having said ‘yes’ to helping, and ‘yes’ to wanting to wait for Jim, and having made plans for the North, and have booked my ferry. It would all be fine if I was also having days like I had in Florence – productive.

I spent some time working at the volunteer office this arvo. If I can get on the WiFi there – just put some music in my ears, then, maybe tomorrow, Sunday, Monday I can really crank through some work. That might make me feel better. Now I feel … anxious, bored, tired (I’ve lost my cyclist’s sleep pattern and cyclist’s sleepiness and I’m not sleeping well), thirsty too – of course, and just wanting things to clarify again. I’m out of my zone – I want to be back in it.

Tonight, I did a volunteer shift as an usher at DruidShakespeare’s full-cycle of Richard II, Henry IV (Parts 1 & 2) and Henry V. It was a long and very chilly night – the production is on in the courtyard of the Castle Yard. They split the telling over two nights. I didn’t stay for the whole show tonight – once the audience was seated after the last break I was free to go – and I did because it was really cold. I hope to get back and watch some of the second half before the festival is over.

Overall, I thought it was a good and engaging production – their twist was that most of the traditionally male roles were played by women and this worked fine but for one of the main actresses who, um, just had an annoying voice and way of speaking. It was overdone, over-acted, and pulled me out of the story.

That said, it was a cool thing to see and it was fun being part of a team and having colleagues again.

So I continue to battle between thinking I need to be working and planning and trying to simply be and enjoy it.

This is (another) test of my commitment to, and ability to, BE HERE NOW.

Yes, I have work to do – writing, photo editing, planning – but I need to BE HERE NOW. Enjoy the festival, embrace it.

At the Graiguenamanagh Tinnahinch Regatta: Sunday 2 August 2015 (Day 70)

We had lunch at the Step House Hotel in Borris then visited the Graiguenamanagh Tinnahinch Regatta.

The regatta entailed, mostly, young people who looked very cold for having spent time in the Borris River while swimming, splashing, diving, etc. There was a brass band with an average age in their late 60s, an excitable announcer I couldn’t understand, cheering friends and family, and a photographer from the local paper to record the lot.

It was really charming. We finished the day with 99s and I felt a part of this quiet country Irish lifestyle.

Ireland Summer
Ireland Summer
The sitting-in-a-tube-splash-backwards-across-the-river race.
The sitting-in-a-tube-splash-backwards-across-the-river race.
Play on, gentlemen.
Play on, gentlemen.
One for this week's local rag.
One for this week’s local rag.

Pop Music, Pop Culture and Clotted Cream – 11-13 July 2015 (Southampton – Bridport – Dorchester)

Saturday 11 July

I’m here for the Let’s Rock Southampton! festival.

No, that’s not quite true. I’m here to see Tom Bailey play Thompson Twins songs at Let’s Rock Southampton!

I am ambivalent about 1980s nostalgia gigs. If everyone is having fun, where’s the harm? Right? But revisiting the scenes of youth, in middle age, with the bands you loved when you were a teenager and they were in their 20s and 30s … there’s something weird and a little unsettling about it. It invites melancholy and a sense of mortality. When last I saw Tom play these songs I was 18 and he was 33, now I’m 46 and he’s 61.

About five years ago Tom and I spent an afternoon walking around Sydney and catching up. He was then certain he’d never do this – never play these songs again. But things change – and he is. So here I am – in a field in Southampton surrounded by sun-burnt middle-aged Englishmen and women.

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Every time I look at this picture it makes me laugh.

Tom’s manager, David I think it is, meets me. He’s a thin, pale man dressed for sailing to South America in a linen suit and panama hat. He asks if I’m Lisa – close enough, he escorts me into the back stage area. And then there’s Tom – with his funny, lovely smile and fabulous hair. Looking every bit as expected.

In the tent Tom introduces me to his band (Angie, Emily and Amanda), the manager’s fiancée, and the lighting guy’s girlfriend, Donna. We talk of my journey and Couchsurfing, of the gigs they’ve been playing, and of how I know Tom. He says I’ve probably seen more Thompson Twins shows than anyone else there – I started to try and count them but couldn’t – it’d be in the 20s.

Most of those I worked. I was an intern on their final US tour. I skipped my high school graduation ceremony so I could be in Arizona in time for the start of the tour. It was a crazy wonderful month or so.

Tom is amazed at my memory of those times but I was 18 and on tour with the Thompson Twins so it was all very memorable for me. “Really?” he asks, “You did the laundry? And bought me socks?” Yes, Tom, yes I did.

It was nice reminiscing with him in this way. Then a particularly weird thing happened.

Before I met the Thompson Twins I was member of their fan club. Back in the day this meant posting away to a PO box in London, sending a money order for a few Pound Sterling – in return I got a membership card, a subscription to a newsletter, exclusive news and things like that. Their fan club was run by a formidable woman named Viv.

She and her daughter came to California for a couple of the gigs there. When she found I was working on the tour she lost her mind. She confronted Tom and Alannah about it. She thought if they were going to have a fan on tour it should be herself or her daughter or there should have been a contest. She’s yelling at them in the dressing room 20 minutes before they go on.

I was worried not so much that her argument would win out but that her craziness would taint my presence on the tour, that it would seem like too much of a pain in the arse. I still remember the anxiety I felt hearing her raging down the corridor.

In the end it was a positive turning point for me. I’d been working diligently at all I was asked to do and tried to be helpful wherever I could. My fellow worker-bees saw me as part of the team, and then more so, really, in comparison with the weird woman.  They were all very supportive and told me not to worry about her.

But my original reaction had stayed with me. So when Tom turned to me and asked if I’d met her, my blood ran cold for just a second … things from one’s teenaged years live on and echo at a particular resonance.

She had arrived and wanted to come say hello to him. He asked me to go help David find her. When we were all standing together some minutes later Tom asked her if she remembered me, she said she didn’t – and maybe that’s so.

Meanwhile a litany of 1980s pop musicians were playing their sets and I was missing all of them in favour of the genial social scene in the tent. When the second last act, Kim Wilde, went on Tom and his band went to get ready. Donna and I joined the crowd in front of the stage.

And then they came on. And it was wonderful. The lights and visuals were fantastic. It was, yeah – so, so nice. And when they finished with ‘Hold Me Now’ and everyone sang along, it really was kind of special and heart-warming.

The set was great – a short-sharp attack on some of their best songs, played well and sung well: In the Name of Love, You Take Me Up, Lies, Sister of Mercy, Lay Your Hands on Me, Love on Your Side, If You Were Here, Doctor! Doctor! and Hold Me Now.

It was as much fun as I had hoped and not nearly as morose as I had feared.

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The set was great.
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Older … better than the alternative. Always nice to see Tom.

Sunday 12 July

Having slept in I took a stupidly expensive train to Weymouth – £24.70 for a ride of less than two hours. There, the start of my ride, was in a windblown spray of rain. Despite that, and the low clouds obscuring what are meant to be fantastic coastal views, it is beautiful and oh, so English. There are rolling hills with paddocks of sheep and there are dog walkers in tweed and wellies.  I stop at a tea room in Abbottsbury – a village of thatch-roofs and stone-houses – to gorge on Dorset apple cake served with clotted cream and a nice pot of tea.

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It was so very good.

If you are familiar with the show Broadchurch then you’ll know West Bay. The nearly-gothic cliffs which loom over the main beach are, in themselves, a star of the show and a star for West Bay. I roll around town laughing at the English-summer and have some disappointing chips.

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Amazing spot.

My Warmshowers hosts for the night are in Bridport, up the hill from West Bay. They must get a fair few visitors because as I’m riding into their subdivision, even further uphill, a woman in a passing car encourages me on with a: “You’re nearly there!”

Malcolm and Jude are truly lovely hosts. They are 60-ish and have a beautiful home and garden – rambling and productive. They are passionate people, chatty and interesting. Jude is a bit of a pagan and Malcolm, I think, indulges her more than he joins. They are kind and welcoming and easy to get on with.

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Malcolm and Jude’s gorgeous garden

After dinner, Malcolm offers to run me around in his car to the Broadchurch murder house and back through West Bay for the night time vibe.

Getting to the house involves driving narrow, hedged, winding lanes illuminated only by his head lights. We arrive in a gravelled car park and there it is, at the top of a little rise. It’s spooky, evocative, and really fun to see.

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Taken in available light at 10:30 pm – appropriately creepy.

Monday 13 July

I worked all morning and then peddled away after lunch. Malcolm made this amazing cheese toastie – toasted and buttered home baked brown sourdough covered with a mix of grated cheddar and hard goats’ cheese, put under the grill and served with Vegemite!

The ride today was good: foggy and windy, but dry and so so green. The height of the hedges bordering the road make passing traffic a bit of an issue but they also block the wind. I saw a pair of fellow cycle tourists and realised I miss the busyness of Italy and even France. I’ve seen almost no other tourers here and not many riders in general.

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England … so very English.

I roll into Dorchester just after the tourist office closes – I can see them still in there but the door is locked and they avoid seeing me. I wander the high street eyeing three or four hotels and then pick one. I could have been more discerning but I’ve been riding all afternoon and I just want a home for the night. It’s a gobsmacking £89 – which is like A$180 – but I’ve not paid for accommodation the past nine nights, so averaged over 10 that’s $18 per night. That’s how I’m going to think of it anyway.

I’ve been on the road for 50 days now and I’m feeling strong and content. Things are good. I’m enjoying the adventure, the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been. Finding the right balances – around how to spend my time and my money – continue to be a bit of a challenge but I think I’m shifting my expectations toward what can be and away from some ideas of what should be.

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Making my way (and then circling back to get the camera).

Hot Days on the Riverside: From Flaach to Basel to Montbéliard

Sunday 28 June 2015: Flaasch to Basel

My heart is thumping GOOD MORNING as I climb out of Flaach to the clamber and clang of church bells. It’s 9:45 am and sweat rivulets down my face and back.

I pass fields of corn, wheat, beetroot, sunflowers, capsicum, cows and sheep. Kirchen, a sign on the side of the road promises. A man in a bucket hat is up a ladder picking cherries into a woven basket. His wife sits at a red and white checked cloth covered table with punnets of the fruit ready for sale.

Rolling down towards the river I’m halted and turn back at the sight of an Australian flag snapping in the Swiss sky. I find its owner – a local who just loves Australia. He’s been twice but still needs to cover the territory between Darwin and Cape York. Last year a cyclist from Tasmania stopped by.

I pass a café setting up on the riverfront and a trio of musicians carrying their instruments down a gravel road. It is a gorgeous summer day and I try to set the worries about distances and expenses aside and feel the simple joy and freedom of being here, now, riding. I climb, again, to a small Swiss town and then ride my breaks down a curving road to shoot across the river, back into Germany and a small village overlooked by an ancient looking bell-tower.

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I arrive at a bit of road closed to motor traffic but not cyclists. The town of Leinheim is having a festival – I’ve just missed the parade but I get a sausage and use the portaloo. The whole town, and more, are in a giant tent drinking massive beers – whatever the festival is it seems to have something to do with bicycles. There are heaps around and the posters for the festival include a sort of crest with a bicycle.

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Festival in Lienheim

Many may think me quite bold and brave to make this journey – I don’t really feel that way about it and in these types of situations I am simply neither bold nor brave. My ex-husband would just bowl into that tent and, with almost no German, find a table, make friends and, generally, throw himself into it. For me, being alone and not speaking German are two very good reasons to simply mount up and ride on with the excuse of hoping to make it to Basel.

Stopping at a garden restaurant in another village for lunch, I sit at a large table and am soon joined by other diners. Service is slow but the day is nice and the sun will shine until 9 pm at least. Couples with elderly parents sit at several other tables. A bloke in my direct line of sight stares at me and nothing will shake him – it’s the only clue he might be a bit special.

At my table: a trio of two women and a man in their late-60s, a slightly younger German man with some English (and a refurbished 1950s motorcycle) and a Swiss cyclist about my age – also with some English. The motorcyclist is gregarious and a bit handsome; he takes up the task of making a group of the lot of us. He asks how I ended up here for lunch and I say “I was hungry.” Later I am asked when I worked and I say: “Last year and next year.” Jeez they think I am hilarious.

I’ve been riding long enough now to realise that 50 – 70 kilometres is what I can comfortably do every day. Some days maybe as little as 30 kilometres; some maybe as much as 80 or 90 – but not as a usual thing, no. Thinking about my capacity is part of thinking about the bigger challenge of finding the right balance amongst riding, sight-seeing, socialising, writing and getting everyday stuff done (bookkeeping, processing photos, keeping up correspondence, etc). I’m here to ride but if I ride all day I’m too tired at the end of the day to get other things done.

So come mid afternoon when I’ve ridden some 70 kilometres on a 30 degree Celsius (plus) day I decide it’s time for the train to Basel.

 

28 – 30 June: Basel & Montbéliard

Basel is boring. Well, I find it boring – quiet, boring and expensive.

“How expensive?” you ask – I saw espresso going for 4.60 Swiss Francs at a café in the centre of town – that’s A$6.44, for a short black. Closer to where I’m staying I saw one for 2.50 Swiss Francs or A$4.90. My Mini Moko stove-top espresso maker is paying for itself.

I am finding that the cumulative exhaustion that comes with long days of riding leave me too flat on my rest days to actually get out and see the place I’m resting in. I’m really just happy to sit here at the hostel, making plans for the coming weeks, doing administrative stuff and  mucking about on Facebook but Basel is out there – a city I’ve never visited before and am unlikely to ever visit again. I should see something of it.

So I go out and what do I find on this hot, humid, Monday evening? Not much. Not many people, nothing much happening. Maybe I went to the wrong places. Maybe everyone stays home on Mondays. Or maybe Basel is just boring.

Here are some good things I can say of the place:

  • It has cool trams (and a free pass for them was provided by the hostel)
  • It’s multicultural
  • France and Germany are nearby
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The Basel Minster

I enter France before leaving Switzerland. One end of the train station is marked France – entering, one finds ticket machines for the French trains, and the old customs offices – seemingly abandoned, or, at least, very very rarely used.

I roll my bicycle on to the French train with ease – a good first experience with France. At Mulhouse station, as I’m getting my bearings, a gentleman approaches and offers to be of assistance. He points, then leads, then explains in simple English how to get to the Eurovelo 6 Cycle Route which I will ride from here. This is my second good experience with France.

I spend the rest of the day riding along the Canal du Rhone au Rhin to Montbéliard. It’s flat easy riding and mostly pretty. Along the way I pass this memorial:

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Morts Pour La France

I circle back to have a closer look and, to be honest, it makes me a little teary. 70 years on and here is a small, innocuous but maintained memorial to a handful of men who lost their lives fighting for the freedom of France (and the world). My third good experience with France.

It’s quite a hot day, in the low 30s I’d say, and a weekday, so there aren’t a lot of other people out on the path. Near towns I see a few walkers and near the locks there are occasionally workers but mostly it’s just me the canal and the sunshine.

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Eurovelo 6 along the Canal du Rhone au Rhin

I’m passed by a rider going the opposite direction – he says ‘bon jour’ and I reply in kind. About 10 minutes later he comes back alongside me and begins a conversation in simple English: where are you from? Where are you going? These sorts of things. Quite normal. Then, apropos of nothing he says: “I have a big dick.” I say “I am not interested in your dick.” To which he says, “But it’s big.” And I say “Really, I don’t care.” He says something like “Come on, it won’t take long.” The man really knows a thing or two about wooing the ladies that’s for sure.

I can’t ride away from him – on a fully-loaded bicycle I can’t out pedal him. And while he is desirous he doesn’t seem menacing. I tell him to piss off. I stop my bicycle – look at him pointing in the direction he has come from and say, “Go.” He mumbles some more. And I say again, “Piss off – go.” And he does. I wait til he’s gone some way and then ride on. At the next lock there are some workers so I stop there for a little while to make sure he doesn’t come back.

So, strike one for France.

Here’s the thing I then spend time thinking about through the afternoon:

Had this worked for him before? Had telling a cycling woman he has a big dick led her to follow him to some place in the bushes for a quick fuck (which, as he said, “wouldn’t take long”)?

He wasn’t a bad looking guy. I didn’t have time for a coffee but, you know, under different circumstances – such a fellow strikes up a conversation on the bicycle path, suggests coffee at a nearby café … you never know where such an encounter might lead. But “I have a big dick … it won’t take long.” These are not magic words, this will never work.

But I leave behind the unpleasantness and pedal on beside the river through the hot afternoon continuing to offer a happy “bon jour” to riders, pedestrians and boaters alike.

In Montbéliard I am staying with more WarmShowers’ hosts – Benoit, Elisabeth and their four kids. They live in a rambling townhouse near the city centre and have been hosting riders for about a year. They don’t do a lot of touring themselves but they love hosting for the experiences it provides their children.

Whatever black mark befell France courtesy of Monsieur Big Dick was erased by the warm and homey welcome extended to me here. Some neighbour kids join us for a big family dinner of simple food and simple English conversation. There are spectacular cheeses (no surprise) and then Benoit asks the kids if they want ice cream or fruit for dessert and the overwhelming choice? Fruit! All of them … yes, yes fruit please!

Afterwards the kids go out to play in the warm and still sunlit evening while we adults linger in the kitchen and talk of our lives, the world we live in, and the joys of cycling.