One third of #30DaysWild

If you are gifted in the way that snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan is, i.e. you are ambidextrous, then this blog post may not be relevant to you. If on the other hand (sorry) you are like most people and have a dominant hand try this; clean your teeth with the opposite hand to that which you normally use. If it isn’t the right time of day to try it you can just pretend to get a feel for how difficult it is. (It might be better to leave it for now if you are on the bus or the train.) Now try this challenge; clean your teeth with the opposite hand for thirty days. At the end of the month something quite remarkable will have happened, well two things actually. Firstly you will become competent at cleaning your teeth with either hand, which could be convenient if your dominant hand ever develops an allergy to toothpaste. Secondly your brain will be fitter than it was at the start of the experiment. That’s because doing something like this is the equivalent of gymnastics for the brain. It forces the brain to do something completely different which makes it work harder and get fitter. Which brings me to The Wildlife Trust and the natural world; obviously.

You see this whole business of doing something different for thirty days is one that I have been fascinated by for several years and regular readers of this blog will both know that I have written about it before. It came to my attention again earlier this year when I came across The Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild campaign. The challenge is to do something every day that connects you with nature and the outdoors with the intention of changing your perspective on such things at the end of a month. That month is June and we are now one third of the way through the task. Despite thinking I knew all about this idea I realised yesterday when taking a photograph of a snail that I had actually failed completely to enter into the spirit of it all.

You see the clue is in the word change. The whole purpose of any thirty day challenge is to bring about change and I suddenly realised that whilst I may have been putting vaguely amusing posts on Facebook and Twitter about my encounters with wildlife I had completely missed the point. I wasn’t actually doing anything very different to any other month’s activities, hence the photo of the snail. You see I don’t normally photograph snails, or any other terrestrial pulmonate gastropod molluscs for that matter, so yesterday was a bit of a breakthrough. Now the challenge really starts as I try to find new things to do that will give me genuinely new experiences.

Getting down with the molluscs

Getting down with the molluscs

Even our bike ride that started at the unearthly hour of four a.m. this week didn’t really count because we do such things at least once every year. Now if I had borrowed a unicycle and set off at midnight rather than dawn then that really would have been different. Possibly disastrous too I admit but at least it would have given me a whole new experience. I’ve got twenty days now to come up wild ideas that are nothing like my normal activities. The difficult task will be striking a balance between being truly imaginative and trying not to get arrested. Wish me luck. Or send me some suggestions if you like.

P1030933

Nice, but not very original

You can still join in #30DaysWild by going to the website for some ideas here. Go on, you might discover the new you.

 

“Are you crazy?”

The song of the blackbird is a complex and beautiful thing, but not necessarily at 3.25am when it is just outside your open window. On this occasion, I was prepared to forgive him because this was the day of one of our annual dawn adventures and he was only five minutes ahead of the alarm I had set on my phone. I used the extra five minutes to listen to the seemingly infinite variety of beautiful calls that a blackbird can make and even smiled to myself as he seemed to try one or two that didn’t quite come off. If you have never listened to a blackbird then you should. It’s a sound that lifts the heart and is guaranteed to banish the saddest of feelings. I have read that the males sing like this to reinforce their territorial claims which seems a bit odd to me. Most animals spray urine or defecate to mark boundaries and many will openly fight. The blackbird sits on a post or rooftop and declares; “Just one step closer and I am warning you I will sing something even more beautiful than the last bit.” Rambo of the bird world he certainly is not. But this isn’t a blog about blackbirds; it’s a blog about going on a mini-adventure.

Ready for off

Ready for off

“You must be mad”, “Are you crazy?” or “Rather you than me” are the usual responses when I tell anybody that we plan to rise before the sun and head off for a walk or a bike ride, but these are knee-jerk reactions with no thought for what such an experience is really like. I’ll save you the bother of thinking it through for yourself and tell you what it’s like.

For me, at least, a good walk or bike ride in beautiful surroundings is a bit like a lovely tasty meal. That is to say that these things are satisfying in their own right but when you add a sprinkle of salt and vinegar to fish and chips or a generous handful of parmesan cheese Bolognese they really come to life. They are lifted to another level of sensation and choosing to set off on a walk or a bike ride before sunrise has the same effect. It adds spice. It turns just another outdoor experience into a mini-adventure. There is an enchanted short period before the sun rises when all the pleasures of being outdoors are intensified. The light is magical; the sounds are amplified and the smells are more distinct. There is a feeling of being part of a secret escapade simply because the majority of people wouldn’t contemplate doing such a thing. It’s as if the world is briefly yours and yours alone to explore and to indulge in. So that is why we crawled out of bed at 3.30am and put on our cycling kit.

Empty road, promising sky

Empty road, promising sky

The dual carriageway to Preston is normally a road we dread but at this hour it was a joy as we cycled side by side soaking up the passing sounds of the birds as they announced another day. After ten minutes we stopped in a layby for a quick breather and gasped at the beauty of the rapidly brightening eastern sky silhouetting the distant hills and the two hares that frolicked around in the field besides us. It was hard to imagine that just a few hours from now this road would be packed with speeding cars and lorries, their occupants totally unaware of our other world that had recently existed in another time.

Sunrise, Preston Marina

Sunrise, Preston Marina

Our destination was Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve about twenty miles from home and in the time it took us to get there our two worlds of calm and chaos had been bridged. As we arrived in the village of Rufford at 6am the traffic was already starting to build and it was a relief to escape into the peaceful sanctuary of the woods and be enveloped by the sounds and smells of nature once more. We crept into one of the many lakeside hides and tucked into a well-earned breakfast sandwich before taking in the scene before us. The early morning light was as sharp and clear as the mist on the lake was ghostly, and the sound of an owl reminded us that the brand new day was only just beginning. A heron flew towards us from the far shore and landed just twenty yards away to patiently await its own morning snack while a small duck (Pochard we thought) with two youngsters in tow glided back and forth just in front of our viewpoint.

View from the first hide

View from the hide

Now it was time to be still. To look, to listen and to breathe in the complex cocktail of aromas that surrounded us. The deep damp woody smell of the hide itself enhanced by the subtle fragrances from flowers and woodland plants all around us. The periods of complete silence broken by a tiny splash as a fish took a fly from the surface of the lake or the sudden surprisingly loud call of a moorhen amongst the reeds just below our viewpoint. Gradually our senses tuned in like eyes getting used to the dark as more and more of this magical scene was revealed. The incredibly subtle movement of the heron as it watches with infinite patience for a fish or frog in the shallows by the side of the lake. A huge bug clinging to a reed just inches in front of our eyes that we didn’t see until it moved and made us jump. It was like a secret magical world that would only be revealed if you were prepared to wait and let it come to you. This time of the day is something that is precious and deserves to be savoured and given space, it’s not a time for rushing around to see what can be seen. Let it come to you and the rewards are enchanting and will stay with you forever.

Inevitably the transient early morning had to come to an end and we prepared for a very different experience as we knew all along that this would be a trip of two halves. With some reluctance we pushed our bikes back out of the woods and taking the memories with us we took to the roads once more for the journey home.

We took a more circuitous route to get away from some of the heavier traffic and there was a little added spice as we progressed further and further along a road that we had been told more than once was “closed ahead”. Turning back at the first warning sign would have been like eating the fish and chips without the vinegar. This was a perfect opportunity to add that little extra zing as we gambled that we would be able to get through. I’m pleased to say that on this occasion the wager paid off.

We rode along quieter roads with names like Long Meanygate and Wholesome Lane and all the time the power of the sun grew steadily stronger reminding us of yet another reason for our crazy early start.  Sadly, in the crossing of a roundabout these quiet roads were but a memory as we plunged back into Preston and all our attention was immediately focused on the fast and heavy traffic around us. We weren’t quite finished with nature though as on the city marina there are dozens of pontoons supporting nest boxes for visitors from Namibia in the form of common terns. We made a small detour to see how these noisy but spectacular birds were getting on.

P1030910

City life

The population had boomed since our last visit and hundreds of birds are now sitting on one, two or sometimes three speckled brown eggs while their partners dive for fish to keep them sustained. In contrast to the peace and tranquillity of the woodlands this was a scene of noise, aggression and fast, furious movement. All the birds seem to be continuously at war with each other, squabbling over space and stealing food from the very beaks of other birds in random acts of ambush.

Just another argument

Just another argument

They screamed at each other and pecked furiously at their neighbours, keen to maintain their small precious share of the available space. It occurred to me that life in the city is pretty much the same whatever the species.

We arrived home in the middle of another hot day. The blackbird was still singing away from his high perch but now I looked at him a little differently. Now we shared a secret, this blackbird and me; we both knew what it feels like to experience a new day from the very, very beginning. That blackbird isn’t crazy, and neither are we.

Eva’s 100 miles for Mommy

Some things are very difficult to understand. I’m OK with basic chemistry, atoms and electrons but I start to lose it when it comes to black holes, quarks and as for Higgs boson, well I don’t like to think about it because it makes my head hurt. But all of these things pale in their complexity when compared to trying to understand happiness.

I’ve been pondering the whole subject of happy over the last couple of days prompted by an incredible event that I was lucky enough to be a small part of. It was an event that spurned huge amounts of happiness but also a fair amount of sadness too and it put them together in a blender and produced something that was very difficult to pin down and explain but I’m going to try anyway.

A whole lot of happiness

A whole lot of happiness

The event that I am referring to was a multi-day sponsored bike ride around the Fylde which in itself is nothing remarkable until you consider that the leader of the ride was just seven years old and the distance covered over the five days was a shade over one hundred miles! As is so often in these cases the background to this amazing achievement is a tragic one which is where all the sadness I referred to came from. Eva, our ride leader, lost her Mommy to cancer last year and she told her Dad that she wanted to do something really special in memory of her. Her Dad Gareth and his daughter are both keen cyclists so a bike ride of some kind was probably inevitable but nobody expected Eva to opt for such an ambitious challenge. After five days of riding the journey ended in a celebration at the local cricket club but it was a celebration tinged with pain and sadness for many. Eva seemed to take the whole thing in her stride and while many of the adult riders bemoaned their aching muscles and tender backsides at the end of the final day Eva celebrated with a game of football with her chums.

Pround Dad

Proud Dad

I met Gareth, Eva’s Dad, through our shared interests of cycling and writing and as I said goodbye to him yesterday he mentioned that he would like his next blog to be a happier one than some of those in the past and that is what got me really thinking about how we get happy and stay happy. Gareth lost his wife in the most awful circumstances to an extremely aggressive form of cancer and he appears to be doing a truly amazing job of bringing up his two small daughters, Eva and Isla, in what must, at times, feel like a whole sea of despair. You have to wonder what chance happiness has of surviving in such a situation but survive it surely does.

For me, happiness is something that comes in moments rather than continuously or permanently because it is something that requires a whole host of elements to be present at the same time. Contentment, security, friends, love, humour, comfort and many more components all have to be present to make us feel truly happy and when you take any one of them away the danger is that the happy bubble bursts. Take one away and replace it with grief and happiness is always going to struggle. Well that is what I thought until my experience over the last two days watching Eva’s ever smiling face as she pedalled furiously up the steepest of hills and never once complained. There was so much fun and laughter and pure joy during those rides it was as if somebody was building the most magnificent cathedral on what had been a derelict bomb site.

Happiness really is such a slippery thing to get to grips with. I sometimes think that it is something that we can share. Being with happy people is infectious like laughter or smiling so that presumes that only really happy people can share it out. Maybe we have to share it out to enjoy it. It’s all very well having a whole birthday cake to yourself but at some point it will make you sick if you don’t share it with others. So here is the real dilemma for me; Gareth and his lovely little girls have every reason to be a bit low on the happiness stakes and yet they seem to have been able to share enormous quantities of it and make dozens, if not hundreds of people very happy. Of course their terrible loss forces us look at ourselves and realise how fortunate we are to have the friends and loved ones that we do but it also gives us hope. It shows us that even the most desperate, desolate bomb site can one day become the foundation for a new and beautiful garden of flowers.

The inspirational Eva

The inspirational Eva

There has been a deluge of heart felt messages on social media today congratulating Gareth and Eva for what they have achieved. Most of them refer to the huge amount of money that has been raised, and the incredible achievement of a seven year old riding a hundred miles in five days. I will second all of those thoughts but I also want to add a great big thank you to Gareth and Eva for the sheer volume of happiness that they have managed to create in the world. That happiness will spread outwards just like ripples in a pond and those ripples will eventually bounce back to them. That’s when I hope Gareth will be able to write his happy blog and I for one will look forward to reading it.

You can read more about Eva’s ride on Facebook by clicking this link. Or, just go here to donate.

The call of the wild

The sound of the rain and sleet on the roof coupled with the wind whistling through the trees and a temperature of just over four centigrade is doing nothing to make me wish I was outside today. Then again, there are many thousands of people in Britain today who will be heading out there in the name of sport, adventure and challenge which makes me wonder what it is about the outdoors, nature and physical exercise that is so enduringly appealing. It seems to me that the more we isolate ourselves from the natural world with our air conditioned cars, centrally heated homes and second hand wilderness delivered through the TV and internet and the more interested in the outdoors we become.

Maybe I have a warped perspective because of my own involvement with cycling, walking and working for a wildlife charity but I get the distinct impression that interest in the outdoors is booming. According to the Outdoor Foundation in America participation in outdoor activities is steady or very slightly declining. Having said that, a whopping 49% of Americans took part in some kind of outdoor recreation in 2014 and according to a Sport England 2014 survey that figure was 59% in the UK. Whatever the trend, that is a huge amount of interest and it raises the question of why are so many people keen to get outdoors at a time when we have never had a more comfortable or entertaining indoor alternative.

My hunch, and it’s only a hunch, is that we haven’t actually evolved anywhere near as far as we sometimes think we have. ‘Modern civilization’ as we call it is still a very, very new concept and only represents the tiniest part of mankind’s presence on the earth. Our new found sophistication is a bit like your first school blazer in that it will take a while to grow into it. Intellectually we can rationalise our great achievement in creating a safe, warm and secure environment in our towns and cities. We can marvel at the cleverness of the many different forms of entertainment we have created; from 3D movies to interactive computer games but the reality is that they are no substitute for the wonders of the great outdoors. Our heads may be ready for driverless cars and flights into space but our bodies and souls still crave the feel of warm sun on our faces or the sound of a blackbird singing at dusk.

This isn’t a rant against modern life by the way. I’m not suggesting for a minute that we should abandon our smart inventions and eschew the comforts of twenty first century living. I just think we need to have some perspective and appreciation of how important the outdoors and nature still is and how ingrained in us it must be. We have spent hundreds of thousands of years as a species living an outdoor life and a mere few hundred escaping it. It isn’t surprising that the lure of the wild draws us to walk in the countryside, to marvel at the beauty of nature or to find peace and solace in a magical sunset.

StaithesSept05 074

Dawn over Staithes harbour, North Yorkshire, England

My worry is that each generation will grow more isolated from these things and I hope passionately that we won’t let that happen. One of the most rewarding parts of my new job is talking to children and their parents as they explore the world of nature on the Brockholes reserve. The innate fascination that children have with all things wild reminds me that we are a long way from evolving into urban creatures for whom the natural world is irrelevant and it gives me hope. When we do finally get those self-drive cars that we are now promised I really hope we will use them to transport ourselves to the countryside where we can abandon them for a few precious hours while we reconnect with our deeply embedded roots.

Those pesky blackthorns

If you read yesterday’s blog then you will know that we were supposed to be hosting a woman called Adrianne Hill on the first night of her round Britain bike ride on the exact anniversary of our own departure two years ago. The good news is that we did host her; but only just.

Firm new friends

Firm new friends

We were expecting her sometime in the afternoon so the first hint that things weren’t exactly running smoothly came with a text informing us that she would be with us early evening. We just assumed that she was taking her time and enjoying exploring the lovely Lancashire countryside. Several texts later though it became obvious that the horrible headwind, frequent wintry showers and unpredictable Garmin route suggestions were taking their toll. I offered to ride out and meet Adrianne to give her a bit of company for the last ten miles which she gratefully accepted but before I was five miles from home she phoned to say she was being hampered by multiple punctures which explained the delays. I immediately went into emergency rescue mode which achieved nothing apart from proving how incredibly unfit I am at the moment and the idea of sprinting to her aid was nothing more than a figment of my imagination. I finally found her and discovered that my damsel in distress was in fact a very cheerful, funny, optimistic, independent and resilient soul whose only flaw was a tendency to be just a teeny weeny bit disorganised. By this I mean that the punctures she was dealing with were in the 20” wheels of her trailer whilst all her spare inner tubes were of a 27” variety to fit the bicycle wheels. She had persistently patched the offending tube but unlike her mood, the tyre remained obstinately flat; no doubt due to an unseen thorn remaining in the tyre. We had no choice but to call for Thunderbird 2 in the form of Gill in the car who quickly loaded up the trailer and Adrianne’s bags and took off up the dual carriageway for home. Fortunately she had to return past us after turning round and fortunately she noticed that we weren’t speeding homeward but rather we were looking dejectedly at yet another flat tyre, this time it was Adrianne’s front wheel! Those black thorns have a lot to answer for. To her credit Gill stayed with us for moral support while I changed the tube as fast as my now freezing fingers would let me.

In fading light and a bit late for supper we finally made it home sometime after 9pm and salvaged what was left of the evening with copious amounts of food, a little wine and lots of laughter. I’ve said it before but cycle touring is always a roller coaster of ups and downs of every type but they don’t normally all come along on the first day. Welcome to touring Adrianne.

Off she goes

Day two, here we go.

 

We packed her on her way this morning with cheese and salad sandwiches, a homemade scone and two brand new 20” inner tubes. As I am writing this she has reported yet another puncture but she is battling on regardless. I have every faith in her ability to make it around our coastline because beneath her petite frame and beaming smile I think there lies a character that is tougher than the toughest blackthorn and believe me, they don’t come any tougher.

Mixed emotions

Bicycle security chickens at the first campsite

Bicycle security chickens at the first campsite

It’s coming around to the second anniversary of our big adventure cycling around the coast of Britain and as always at this time of year I find there are endless memory joggers that cause me mixed emotions of joy and consternation. Joy at such happy memories and consternation over whether we will ever manage to tear up our new anchors and break away to taste that amazing freedom once more.

I have always followed other people’s adventures but for obvious reasons I am now particularly drawn to any endeavour to circumnavigate our coast by whatever means. I am currently following Quintin Lake who is walking the coast and creating a stunning photographic record of his journey, Elise Downing who is running the circuit and Sean Conway who has upped the anti and is attempting an extraordinary triathlon cycling, running and swimming the route. All of these adventurers have been reminding me acutely of our own experience but when it turned out that Elise and Sean would both be passing through our village the week before our two year anniversary I found myself reliving our departure like it was yesterday.

Great to meet you Sean

Great to meet you Sean

But just when I thought these coincidences couldn’t get even more profound we received an e-mail from yet another intrepid soul about to embark on her own odyssey.

Adrianne Hill wrote to us via the Warm Showers cycle tourers hosting site and asked if we could put her up one day next week. She went on to explain that she was cycling the coast of Britain and we could learn about her journey from her website. Obviously this piqued my interest so I went to find out more only to discover that she has raised the bar in more ways than one. Not only is she cycling the coast but she then intends to run from Lands End to John O’ Groats before crossing the country SUP style (Stand Up Paddle) to complete her own unique triathlon. That is an impressive and ambitious trip but what really bowled me over was when and where she was starting from. She is leaving Liverpool today, Tuesday the 26th April, exactly two years to the day since we set off and she is staying with us tonight! I’m not a believer in fate and all that stuff but really, Mystic Meg could not have written this stuff.

Ready for the off on day one.

Full of nervous anticipation two years ago today

All of these poignant reminders only serve to put me in reflective mood as I look back with timely perspective at our own trip and contemplate what I learned from it. As predicted it really did change me in all sorts of ways, most of which I couldn’t see without the benefit of two year’s hindsight. Trying to assess the effects of a trip like ours immediately on our return was a bit like standing two feet from a very large oil painting and trying to take in the subject. All you see is a blur of colour and texture which may be interesting and even attractive but you get no sense of what the painting is about. Looking back over a decent time span is like stepping back from the work of art and all of a sudden everything comes into view.

I wrote a whole list of the ways in which I believe I have changed as a result of our adventure which included things like being less materialistic, believing in the good in people and appreciating the simple pleasures in life but the one thing that really stands out for me is that I just feel more content. I feel like I have found my place. I think I have always had a yearning to find out what it would be like to throw caution to the wind and metaphorically set sail, leaving the safe harbour behind and chancing to the wind to explore and discover. Our cycle trip has scratched that itch for me and left me feeling simultaneously sated and happy to be where I am. It doesn’t mean I would never want to set out again, but I am happy for now to just enjoy the moment. I remember writing something before the trip about squeezing every last drop of juice from life but the trip has taught me that you don’t necessarily have to be pedalling thousands of miles to do that. I would love to go off again to find new adventure but I don’t have the same sense of urgency that used to gnaw at me. Standing on the start line of a 4,500 mile bike ride is daunting and magnificent, as is looking back at it after two years, but the reality is that the journey itself is no different from any other part of life and the trick is to recognise the value of now and exploit it for everything it is worth.

I’m looking forward to hosting Adrianne and to sharing her excitement at the very beginning of her journey. I’m looking forward to following her adventure along with Quintin’s, Sean’s and Elise’s and enjoying their experiences as they push themselves to new heights. The difference now is that I won’t be jealous of them because I don’t need to imagine what they are going through, I know.

Wildlife on wheels

Bit of a dearth of blogging lately I know, my only excuse is starting work and spending all my spare time trying to stop the big fat pigeon from eating all the food we put out in about thirty seconds. There will be more on that and my new job in another post soon.

In the mean time I have been guest blogging for the Wildlife Trust junior web pages on the joys of combining cycle touring with watching wildlife. The result is over here: http://wildlifewatch.org.uk/wildlife-cycling I hope you like it.

1010201

 

Do you have a junk room?

Do you have a junk room? Or an attic, box room, garage or spare shed: whatever form it takes I mean somewhere that you can chuck all that stuff that won’t fit anywhere else. Or maybe you rent storage space to hold the possessions that don’t fit into your regular home anymore. Apparently the latter trend is growing rapidly and 11% of self-storage is used by people who are de-cluttering. That’s not de-cluttering. That’s moving your clutter somewhere else.

I’ve spoken to lots of people who have boxes in their attic that they put there the last time they moved house and they have never opened them since. (Me included at times) Even more intriguing is if you asked them to list the contents of those boxes they would struggle.

I wonder how many people have gone through the process of packing the contents of their house prior to a move without using the phrase; “I can’t believe how much stuff we have.” I’d love to hear from you if you are one of those rare individuals.

So, you might think that since Gill and I have gone to extremes to reduce what we own to the bare minimum we wouldn’t suffer from these problems but you would be wrong. Even though we don’t now have an attic, a spare room or a garage we have still managed to squirrel away about ten boxes of stuff that we haven’t opened in the two months since we moved into our park home. I am beginning to wonder if anybody is truly immune from this need to hang on to things no matter what.

My own weaknesses are bits of old bikes, off cuts of timber and knackered Ordnance Survey maps held together by brittle yellowing Sellotape. The idea of throwing a map away is such an anathema to me that I even have more than one copy of some maps and I still hang on to them. When we cleared my Dad’s shed out we found old tobacco tins full of broken and rusting screws. Maybe its genetic. As I type I am looking at a leather clock that used to belong to my Mum and Dad. It sits proudly on our mantelpiece and you know what? I don’t even like it!

When we went cycle touring for a few months we whittled our belongings down to just what would fit onto the bikes. We put a lot of time and effort into it until we felt confident that we weren’t taking anything that was superfluous to our needs. We more or less got it right too, but then we did something really strange.

I'm sure I've got a spare spoon in there somewhere

I’m sure I’ve got a spare spoon in there somewhere

While we were on the road we actually began to accumulate stuff. We bought a three pack of plastic Sporks because they were on offer, (combination spoon and fork that are supposedly unbreakable) and a five pack of toothbrushes despite that fact that I only needed one toothbrush to clean the chains on the bikes. We ‘forgot’ about food that we had bought and stored in the bottom of the panniers and I even carried a ‘handy’ sheet of polythene that somebody gave me even though it was ten times bigger than what I needed. Well you never know when it might come in useful do you? In other words, even when cycle-touring, and with such limited storage capacity, we still weren’t immune to the twin problems of ‘acquiring stuff’ and ‘hanging on to stuff’.

Maybe it’s all a matter of space. After all, how many people do you know with an empty garage that they put the car in each night? If I am right and the only way to avoid hanging on to stuff that you don’t really need is to limit your storage space then that would suggest that our 35’ x 12’ home is too big! Maybe a narrow boat is the only answer. I would miss my shed though.

I looked up the definition of Junk on Oxforddictionaries.com. It told me that is was “Old or discarded articles that are considered useless or of little value”. When you put it like that it seems a strange thing to dedicate a room to doesn’t it?

Then again, there is another definition of the word junk. It also means: Worthless writing. Hmmm?

 

 

Desperately seeking justification

newspaper

I know, I know. Having nailed my colours firmly to the mast and banged on about living a simpler life in the last post, I had better deal with the very obvious elephant in the room, namely a brand new car that we will be picking up next week. With all this talk about the freedom of owning less stuff it might strike you as slightly at odds to be burdening ourselves with a car on a finance deal. I confess that I am not entirely comfortable with the decision but it’s made now so I suppose I ought to at least try and justify it.

Sometime last year I watched a TV program about people living in basic shelters in the woods. (Before you start, we have discussed getting rid of the TV on many occasions but for now, at least, it’s staying. Get over it.) They were off grid, living partially self-sufficiently and completely shunning the modern, materialistic way of life. No car, no TV, no electricity etc. etc. I admired them. What they were doing was extreme and frankly, not for me, but it doesn’t mean that they weren’t pioneers; challenging the status quo and giving us all something to think about. I see them a bit like the fashion designers that flaunt their latest creations on the catwalks of Milan and Paris. Nobody actually expects the average man or woman to be walking the streets of Nottingham in a space suit with a tambourine on their head next year, but some faint echo of the designs will filter through to everyday fashion for sure. It’s the same with people that take ways of living to the absolute extreme; we don’t have to copy them but we can take ideas from them and adapt them to our own lives. Gill and I are not ready to abandon our limited possessions and build a tree house just yet, and neither are we prepared to live without a car; but it’s not so much the car, as the brand new car, that I am having trouble adjusting to. This is how it came about.

Our previous car was fourteen years old and, a bit like me, it was suffering from fatigue. It was probably more of a perception issue than anything but we seemed to be getting overly familiar with the staff at our local garage. There was no doubt that what the car really needed was a new owner. Preferably a mechanic. Having put it up for sale on the Autocar website I began typing in the parameters of the kind of car we were looking for at a price we could afford. Well if websites could laugh this one would have been doubled up in stitches, rolling about on the floor and wiping its eyes; probably with an oily rag. I don’t know what possessed me but in a moment of madness I looked to see if we could get a 0% finance deal on a new car instead. I won’t bore you with the details of the sums involved* but they went a bit like this:

The cost of owning the old car over three years, taking into consideration purchase and sale prices, and adding in tax, insurance, repairs and servicing came to about £96 per month.

The new smaller car on 0% finance, including servicing and being exempt from vehicle tax, would cost £94 per month.

Factor in the £2500 deposit we have to pay (which effectively stays in the residual value of the car) and which might have generated about £110 in interest at current rates in an ISA, and you can see that the new car is no more expensive than the old one and hopefully it won’t want to spend half its life in the garage. It’s also a bit greener. (In a bright red kind of way.) Despite everything we were trying to do to be less materialistic we just couldn’t deny the maths and whilst desperately trying to convince the salesman that we weren’t really new car kind of people we signed on the dotted line and slunk out of the showroom trying ever so hard not to grin like a pair of Cheshire cats.

And here is my feeble attempt at seeking justification for our decision:

Whilst we don’t feel ready to give up on owning a car completely we do want to do less driving and make more use of the bikes, public transport and walking. The deal on the new car plays right into our hands because there is a limited mileage clause in the finance package which restricts us to an average 27.4 miles per day. Extra miles will result in a financial penalty at the end of the agreement. Enter stage right……… a spreadsheet! Yes I intend to monitor our mileage and use the mileage cap as an incentive to do more utility cycling and less driving. That way we get fitter and we save the planet into the bargain. Win, win.

I still feel uncomfortable though. Even more so because while I am sat at home writing this and listening to the rain hammering at the windows, Gill is at work. She went on her bike!

Hardy cyclist leaves for work

Hardy cyclist leaves for work

*If you really want to see it send me your e-mail address and I’ll mail it to you. (I promise I won’t tell anybody else that you asked for it.)

At last I have my focus.

Maybe more for me than for you, I feel compelled to place a full stop in this blog. A marker to move forward from after a fair bit of reflection on my part. I should warn you that it isn’t funny.

20160219_115654_compressed

At last I have my focus! After spending the last twelve months and more thrashing around trying to work out what the hell this blog is supposed to be about I finally have some answers. I have been reading advice from other bloggers and focus seems to be the one requirement of a good blog that everybody agrees on. Now, after giving it a lot of thought, I am finally making some sense out of what it is I want to write about.

It really is so very simple and it’s been staring me in the face all along. The blog started as an account of a life changing adventure when we decided to sell everything, give up our jobs and take off on a six month 4,500 mile cycle tour round the coast of Britain. But that was only how the blog began, not our story. This story really started several years earlier when we had one of those; late-night, second-bottle-of- wine, what’s-it-all-about type of conversations that ended with an agreement that we should never settle for the mundane and never stop questioning the way we live.

We have been focussed on those ideas ever since and that, of course, is what the blog is about. I may have gone off on some pretty wacky tangents at times but when I look back on all the posts and consider what I want to write about in the future it’s the same topic as that which forms a fundamental thread running through our lives.

I don’t think we ever had a road to Damascus moment but we have gradually moved from a focus on jobs, money and possessions to one that centres on free time, new experiences and living a simple life. It’s all about needing less rather than earning more. All the big events and decisions in the last few years have revolved around this including the bike ride, although we probably didn’t realise it at the time. The move to part-time, low paid work, and the recent purchase of the mobile park home are further steps along the way. There is a narrow boat somewhere on the horizon but that’s still a dream at the moment. Each event has led to less stuff, less space and a lot less money. It has also given us a huge sense of freedom and flexibility. It feels a bit like the first day of our big bike ride when tears rolled down my face as we rode the first few miles and I contemplated the scale of what lay ahead. The unknown emptiness of the next six months was exhilarating, like a long dark night just waiting to be filled with sweet dreams. (Ironically, it may well be possible to achieve a similar sensation by having unlimited money but that option was never coming our way.)

The blog is my attempt to provide some insight into what our chosen route involves. We don’t have a manual entitled “Nirvana in six easy steps- the simple life” though I expect there may well be one. We have no idea whether what we are doing is the answer but it’s an option. It’s not about knowing the answers anyway; it’s more about having endless questions. What if? Could we? Should we? We are just attempting to answer the questions rather than letting them hang in the air. It’s about not getting to the end of the journey still wondering what would have happened if we had taken that fork in the road.

A simple life

A simple life

So there is the focus for this blog. It’s about our journey trying to make the most of whatever time we have left. Just like everybody else I suppose. We’re not trying to say it’s the right way. It’s just our way.

image_pdfimage_print