So Island Story is out! You can order it from your local bookshop or via this good non-Amazonian website:
I’ve written a little about the book and the wonderful people I met on the road for my publisher, Repeater. It’s also a comment on Brexit and its aftermath:
I’ll be back on the road in August, cycling through Oxford, the Midlands and North and doing talks in various places – more news on that to come.
Thanks as always to everyone for the support and reassurance, and to those who made it to the enjoyable, upbeat launch last night at Housmans, with the brilliant Jeremy Seabrook.
Island Story: Journeying through unfamiliar Britain will be out next year with new imprint Repeater Books. Read an excerpt of my rides through the North-East here.
It’s a concise and fresh write-up of the journey meticulously detailed here. Readers will be familiar with what happens (all the beer, breakdowns and renegade tents…), but the analysis and reflection on those extraordinary conversations and adventures is new. I hope it’s a fitting tribute to the generosity and friendship I encountered out on the road.
Further news on publication date and launch will appear here soon. Special thanks to the readers of this blog, and those kind and thoughtful comments and messages of support that kept me riding through.
Dan – August 2015.
‘I’ve got the skills to pay the bills’. – Pub talk, the Marquis, New Cross.
This is it, the last one. Reader, you too deserve praise for making it this far on our strange psychosafari through Britain’s wilderness. All the comments, likes, and emails of support have truly kept me going. I’d never expected the blog to take off in the way it has, and it’s strange to imagine a world reading about a mad night that ends in sleeping in a park near Sheerness. 1,400 subscribers and 50 unique hits each day testify to a peculiar global voyeurism. Well thanks for that. We’re almost done.
Mayflies collide and tussle among the spindly reeds where I’ve laid my head. Last night, I gazed up at the clouds hovering over this no man’s land between Minster and Sheerness. White points drifted over the violet skies, reflecting the lamps of Sheerness and the surrounding rusting hinterland, possibly stars, or satellites, or distant aircraft. Teenagers had hollered and laughed in the distance, perhaps a mile away, but the sound carrying over the flat marshland, and it took some time to drop off, too tired to move, too alert in case they drew closer and happened on this sleeping man.
‘Ere Kel can I come in the toilet wiv ya?’ – courting rituals, Sheerness.
I awake with really bad fatigue. It aches to even stretch my legs, whilst elbows creak and crack. I haven’t had much sleep, finding it torturously difficult to even drop off, listening to the shouts and arguments of drunk teenagers somewhere nearby on Margate’s promenade. Everything hurts!
In most travelogues, one will notice that the ending is often hurried, inconclusive, even bad-tempered. Bill Bryson seems to lose it with everyone, Paul Theroux is increasingly impatient, whilst on their bicycles, Josie Dew and Mike Carter both tear through their final few days without seeming to even look up from their milometers. I used to wonder what malaise affects travellers on their tail-end of their journeys, but as I’ve approached closer to home, a great physical and mental fatigue has taken me over. With the exhaustion of yesterday still aching through my bones, I’m feeling like I’m repeating the beginning of this trip, as if I’m mirroring my old movements, those first few days where every part of my body wailed out its pain in a slightly different pitch so that I was able to hear them all at the same time. I’m back to that. The prospect of cycling even ten miles today feels unlikely. Perhaps I should’ve had some more rest days. But with darkness kicking in now at 6.45, and the cold beginning to bite, this has to be it. Nearly there…
‘Money is still a big problem for us’ – Slavo, Margate.
My word, last night was probably the strangest experience of my life. As I awake, there’s nothing around me in the distance that would suggest red flashing signs or strange floating jackets or gently gliding samurai-like figures hovering over the shingle. Looking back, it’s actually a little terrifying, or certainly weird, the froth of a highly disordered brain. Like listening to Brian Eno’s ‘Lantern Marsh’ on repeat until one’s cerebral arteries collapsed. The sleep of reason… There’s something so eerie and empty about Dungeness. Wild-camping here sober would’ve been odd enough, but the added intoxicants seem to have momentarily torn through the veil of perception and hinted at a far more strange and inexplicable one.
The sound of feet padding through the shingle sends shivers down my spine. That night seemed to last forever, like a limbo without people or the possibilities of ever experiencing emotions again. It tapped into a taste for solitude and pointed out the isolating chaos at its core. In a bizarre way it reflects the myopia of seeking something that never actually existed except as a concept one already possessed. My eyesight impaired and my imagination running riot, I was compelled to wander all around this dark and empty beach in search of something that was already nearby me, that I should’ve seen because I’d placed it there. Does ‘Albion’ exist anywhere outside of a couple of poetry books and English literature surveys? My mind felt possessed in a way I imagine ants and other small insects are when the parasite cordyceps lodges itself inside their brains, forcing them to climb higher and higher so that its powerful urge can find a place to blossom and, in doing so, kill the ant. Some ideas can drive you mad.
‘We’re protected from their malice by their incompetence’ – Laurie, Brighton.
Strange times, these. Everyone seems to believe so much is wrong, but no-one’s offering a way forward. We’ve become uneasy about right answers, and fixated with locating wrongs. Hope has become a debased currency, one feels embarrassed at the exchanges about even taking it out one’s pocket. Clunky, greasy, funny spelling, weird symbols. Better traded for cynicism or snide complaining. Wandering around the marketplace of ideas, all one hears is the hullaballoo of people demanding refunds.
I’ve been travelling across a land-mass and nearby islands where not even the English language is a universal definer. There’s a vague sense of common-ness among the peoples I’ve met, but the regions, cultures and histories of these islands are so diverse that I can no longer imagine them as one country, say ‘the United Kingdom’, on a map. You can call it ‘UK’ if you like. But there is no king here, and little united about it. UnKnown might be more apt.
‘I’ve never done this before’, says a female pensioner, ‘but I’m sitting out here watching the world go by. And there’s a lot of young people here…’
‘And they’ve all got mobile phones glued to their ears!’
– street talk outside the Swan Walk shopping centre, Horsham.
I awake at my old teacher Ariel’s house in Horsham, surrounded by collections of William Blake’s prophetic writings and intricate pen-drawn maps of mysterious scenes produced by his son. ‘If it were not for the Poetic or Prophetic Character, the Philosophic & Experimental would soon be at the ration of all things & stand still, unable to do other than repeat the same dull round over again’, I read in Blake. ‘Warning, this is a teenager’s room’, announces a sign next to that. I hope he doesn’t mind.
The wound on my knee is now definitely infected and has become painful to move. As I pack my belongings away, the lettering from my replacement pannier peels off in my hands, the Altura brand logo reduced to ‘RA’, whilst a sizeable hole has appeared in the other bag as its stitching unravels. Even the saddle is torn, spilling out foam. I’m wondering who’ll collapse first, me or this faithful bicycle.
‘Always go back to the source’ – Ariel, Horsham.
I awake in the cosy suburbs of Southampton. There are six days left now, sufficient time I doubt to ascertain the situation of these islands. Today I will push inland, off the coastal road, over the South Downs and into commuter belt territory. The South East, the ‘Home Counties’, lands of wealth and plenty, of twitchy curtains, casual hypocrisy and Daily Mail readers, those stiff-looking men and women in striped ties and floral blouses in the photos of Martin Carr, an area surrounded by as many clichés and ill-established assumptions as its mythic antithesis, the North. Let’s take a look at that.
My sleep’s been uneasy, and the fragments of some dreamt words lead to Percy Bysshe Shelley and the bees of England, a poem calling on the ‘Men of England’ to overthrow their exploitative overlords.
‘Men of England, wherefore plough
For the lords who lay ye low?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?
Wherefore feed and clothe and save,
From the cradle to the grave,
Those ungrateful drones who would
Drain your sweat – nay, drink your blood?’