Community spirit

Whilst going back through the photographs from the trip I came across one that brought back a flood of emotional memories. Worth sharing I think.

When we were in Easington on the North East coast of England we stopped for a short break and to have a bite to eat. Two things from that day really stick in my mind and I would like to share them with you.

The first was a gentleman by the name of Edward who Gill befriended whilst I was off in search of a public toilet. I came back to find my place on our bench had been taken by this cheerful old man and he was happily engaged in the business of telling his life story to Gill.

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Gill and Edward

A miner for 35 years, he had been made redundant, or thrown on the scrap heap as I understood it, just twelve months before he was due to retire. Just four years after this devastating and humiliating treatment his wife died. At about the same time the mine he had worked in for all those years was closed for good. When we met him he had been a widow for twenty six years. Now he spends his days sitting on his bench observing his home town as it tries desperately to maintain a modicum of dignity amidst the devastating economic and social damage done by the closure of the pit all those years ago. He told us that a few jobs had been created in start up businesses in the years following the closure but most had withered and died as soon as the grant money dried up. Now the town is occupied by a generation of Mums and Dads whose only skill that they can pass on to their children is a detailed knowledge of the state benefit system. It was all terribly sad and only Edward’s undaunted and determined positive outlook on life could lift my spirits. That is until I wandered into the community centre still looking for a toilet. There I found Amanda and Angela and a whole heap of positive energy and community pride. They appeared to be doing a giant jig saw but on closer inspection the pieces turned out to be small bits of coloured glass and the jig saw was in fact a large mosaic. The plan was to involve as many people as possible in it’s creation and to record the names of all the contributors in a book about the project. We were thrilled to be asked to stick a couple of shiny squares in place and to leave our mark, however small, in this symbol of defiance and optimism.

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Proud to be a part of this

It was very inspiring to see this spark of pride and community amongst these people. They must have really had the stuffing knocked out of them over the last twenty years but they were still hanging in there and sticking together. It was just the kind of thing to bring us down to earth and remind us how incredibly lucky and privileged we were to be able to just swan off on a five month bike ride.

Not long before we got to the end of our trip I received an e-mail that made me incredibly happy. Amanda and Angela had remembered our visit and thought we might like to see the finished result. I thought you might like to see it too.

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We must go back and see this some time

How wonderfully uplifting is that? If ever there was a shining example of how important it is to not give in, to battle on and look for the positive then this mosaic must surely be it.

Not cycle touring

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They say a change is as good as a rest don’t they? I’m not so sure. We came to Brighton for a change from cycle touring and we certainly got that. As for the rest, well we shall see tomorrow when we get back on the bikes. For now, we are most definately, not cycle touring.

Good idea

Good idea

We have been amazingly lucky this past week to catch up with some very special friends and to be given the time and space that we both felt we needed to take a break and recuperate. We really have had the best of both worlds because having spent time with people that we haven’t seen for years we were then invited to stay on in this lovely flat in Hove, just fifteen minutes walk from the centre of Brighton. We have tried to rest, honestly, but there is simply so much to see and do here that we have had to settle for change instead.

Of course it didn’t help that we landed here on one of the busiest weekends of the year and it would have been wrong not to take in the spectacle that used to be called Gay Pride but is now, rather unimaginatively called LGBT Pride. Brighton doesn’t need a parade to provide a spectacle to be fair, there are spectacularly interesting people just going about their everyday business anyway so when you invite them to dress up and show off they don’t need asking twice. From the dainty dandy with his too cute for words pink poodle to the six foot six inch queens of drag marching confidently in their vertiginous heels, the parade was a sight to behold.

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Towering transvestites teased the shy young policeman on crowd duty as he stole furtive glances at a bevy of beautiful young girls who screeched and giggled at the ever more outrageous costumes that paraded by us.

In the evening we joined the crowds in the park to listen to mostly too loud music and drink extortionately priced lager before walking back to the city amongst the happy drunks and the shy, gay young lovers who for once could hold their partners hand as a sign of affection rather than protest.

The atmosphere throughout the day was one of celebration and joy. The whole city seemed to be happy to embrace diversity and choice and I never heard a grumpy voice all day. It was a long and exhausting day but there would always be tomorrow for resting.

Mexican beer and food in Brighton

Mexican beer and food in Brighton

Then again. You see the problem with places like Brighton is that there is simply too much choice. Our friend Margaret picked us up and we headed out of the city to a lovely country pub called The Anchor on the banks of the river Ouse. If Pride is a sign of how things have changed in the past fifty years then the scene today could not have been more traditional. Rowing boats, picnics, swimming in the river, pints of ale straight from the barrel and the age old tradition of fending off wasps while trying to eat dinner were the order of the day. It was a scene that would have changed little in the last few hundred years apart from the fact that people falling from a rowing boat into the river is even funnier when they realise their mobile phone is in their pocket. It was a lazy, laid back, slow kind of day, just what we needed after the excesses of the previous one.

Now we find ourselves on our own and enjoying the luxury of having the flat to ourselves but still struggling with the endless choice of places to eat, drink and shop. It’s all a bit of a shock compared to the last three months and our quiet nomadic lifestyle. We find ourselves walking miles trying to decide which pub to have a drink in or which nationality of cuisine we should experiment with each evening.

Turkish tonight

Turkish tonight

We have cycled three thousand miles trying to get a flavour of this little country of ours and now, within three square miles, we can taste the whole world. It’s all a bit crazy and manic and in some ways I’ll be glad to get back on the road again. If not for a rest, then at least for a change.

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