‘If something went wrong we’d say “10% off crabs and lobster!” Then I’d call the boss up and say stick an extra fiver on the shellfish.’
– a guide to good business management, aboard the ferry to Sark.
My sister and I awake in a cramped one-person tent, that through parsimony and a preference for adventure, we’ve elected to sleep in as we explore the Channel Islands. We’re camped on the north-western edge of Jersey, a pleasant yet surprisingly small island off the coast of France. For some centuries it is has been the possession of the British Crown, and much of its French or Jerriais identity has disappeared over the last fifty years, as English and Scottish migrants have arrived to work in its burgeoning finance sector. The country is a tax haven, though do not expect to see gated mansions or humongous yachts, and those who benefit most from Jersey’s arrangements are also offshore.
‘I think boyfriends are irrelevant, because of what’s happening to the planet. This is about the planet, and it’s called ‘Foolish Man’.
– Open mic night at the Kettle and Wink, St. Ives.
The feeling from up above Greenaway beach is serenity. I climb out of my tent and into a clump of shrubbery, all that protects me from the suspicious glares of dog-walkers behind me, or an easy tumble down into the maws of the seas below. This beach is special in the memories of people I met yesterday. It was also preserved in poetic aspic by John Betjeman, the poet who died and was buried by here.
‘I know the roughly blasted track
That skirts a small and smelly bay
And over squelching bladderwrack
Leads to the beach at Greenaway.’
‘We can’t just say it’s all bad man, we have to think about what could happen.’
– Jimmy, Cardiff.
I awake in the northern suburb of Roath Park, Cardiff. I’ve set an alarm, but what has me up and out of bed are the affections of a dog, Ropo, who runs into the room and licks my face and feet with his barbed and tickly tongue until I manage to shoo him away. I have tea and breakfast with Sebo, an accomplished photographer and, typically for that profession, overly perfectionistic and self-critical. Since the couple moved to Cardiff from Finland after Hanni got a PhD scholarship nine months ago, Sebo’s been volunteering at local galleries and organising small workshops, as well as occasional bits of work here and there for the BBC.
He’s also made friends with the guys at Punk Bikes, a small cooperatively-run bike shop on the junction between Newport Road and City Road to the east of the centre. My back brake has started rubbing against the wheel and the spring seems to have gone awry, once again – this curse previously afflicted me across the Midlands and Nottingham – and I’m starting to despair. At my insistence we cycle at a slow pace so I can keep up (!), and we cycle past a collage of neon and ruins, cuisine houses that span the continent of Asia besides tatty phone shops, neglected Victorian townhouses turned into cheap bedsit lets and, a little behind the scenes, garagelands besides one-way streets cutting hither and thither on this quiet sunny morning. We follow one down til we reach a tight alleyway marked with stylised graffiti. Here’s Punk Bikes, and the service is friendly and off-the-cuff. I’m shown some of their bizarre home-made cycles, odd trikes and bikes which somehow succeed in travelling from A to B. The brake spring is adjusted though they’ve no brake pads suitable for my old-fashioned bike, so I’m pointed elsewhere and head out. The repair’s overpriced but the ethos is sound, though by the end of the day the spring will go again.
‘Not everyone could do it. It’s his choice, he loves it.’ John on John, on the island of Johns, also known as Cape Wrath.
I could gaze at this view forever. Scatter my ashes here. This is a longer post, but the sights, stories and scenes ah, it’s worth following!
It’s 8.30am. At different times in my life, I’ve spent this time cattle-trucked on morning tubes and trains, fellow passengers arguing and fighting, stress and frustration sweating from people’s shirts and ties like a miasma of tolerated suffering. Or buses caught in interminable south London traffic, making me late for school, then university, some arsehole’s music blaring at the back from his phone. Or in the last year, dodging blind taxi drivers and the horsey wives of the rich in Chelsea tractors along the south circular to my current university on this very same bike besides my tent today.