Day 100: Bristol

‘This is my lifestyle. Work work work then go home.’
– conversation among strangers, Bristol Harbour.

I wake up in Jackson’s front room in Easton, north-east Bristol. It’s been a warm and cosy welcome from the city so far, a distinctively laid-back, liberal place that stands out for its cool, calm bustle and plethora of ambitious street art. It’s a vision of what British cities could be. Much of its built environment is similar to other cities, from the terraced townhouses of Victorian family life to the technocratic Austin Maxi utopias of car-centred road planning. The malls like Cabot Circus could have been built in any other city south of Aberdeen and north of Southampton, and the regenerated harboursides with their cobbled paths, hipster boozers and art galleries are lovely but, in fairness, nothing unusual. No, wandering around Bristol yesterday as the afternoon became the evening, I encountered a city that charmed me with its ambience and mood. Music, art and conversation felt not simply possible here, but inevitable; freely created, exchanged and shared. There’s life all about the place. It feels like it would be a very hard town to be parochial, bigoted, or just plain dull in. That is wonderful.

Jackson dashes out after improbably little sleep to help a friend decorate. I’m realising that the older I get, the less I can tolerate less than six hours’ kip. There was a time when I’d go to work with little more than five, ready to hit the high-stress coalface and attempt to prove some kind of validity and worth in places where having no personal life or weird anxiety tics were positive signs of personal commitment. You get em! Now I can sleep in ‘til nine or eleven if I choose. Bristol’s my business, and my CV’s so chequered that I’m no longer burdened with the delusion of aspirational employment. These travels are taking place in a hole in time, sustained by small pots of money that come with conditions whose implications I’m ignoring right now, as I climb into my least-smelly clothes whilst sipping a herbal tea. Untethered to a deadline or obligation, to a pressure to pay an inflated bill or appease a miserable boss.

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Day 74: Heysham to Preston

‘Without them, this town would be shut down.’ – taxi driver, Blackpool.

Have you woken to the sound of pure electricity flowing above your head and this fragile polythene sheet that some would call a tent, and others a place of rest? If not, then strive for it, even if it means sleeping in the most exposed and strange of waste grounds in Heysham, near Morecambe. Where are either? Then you haven’t lived. These pylons sound like rain, their voltage dangerous and yet strangely tranquilising, even for all the shouting during the night nearby, as drunken kids raced up and down the road right by my tent. Thankfully I was not discovered, but it adds to the night’s strangeness.

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Day 66: Glasgow to Arran

‘The boss man’s here, watch out!’
‘Yeah, I’d better do some work.’
– Punter to a barmaid, Brodick.

Taking a week’s break from cycling has been a really good idea.

For one, I’ve been able to piece together notes with photos and get up to date with the writing. But homesickness can build up cumulatively. For some, there’s a need to express and experience tenderness and affection. Among strangers this is occasionally possible, but returning home, seeing my family and my partner, has been a rejuvenating tonic. And returning to London? Well in a funny way I love the place too, but that will require some explaining. I’ll save that for the end of this journey. Right now, I’m heading back up to Glasgow on a ridiculously cheap coach, returning to the city where I left my inspiration, along with a sleeping bag, tent, and bicycle.

The motorways are filled with delivery lorries bringing stuff hither and thither. One has skidded and slid over, the driver’s supply of caffeine from countless energy drinks perhaps failing him at some unlucky moment. The coach gets caught in one glut of traffic after another, and a mere ten hour journey stretches to around thirteen. To complete the misery, I have a hyperactive kid behind me tapping and kicking the chair. It’s the kind of testing exercise that would send a bodhisattva on a killing spree.

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