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.

I’m not dead, I’m just resting

Time for a breather

Time for a breather

Well this is it. This is my final post from my ‘post a day for thirty days’ challenge. I have to say that it doesn’t compare to getting to the last few metres of a half marathon (the longest I have ever run) because I’m not exhausted and I should be able to walk unassisted tomorrow but I would be lying if I didn’t say that I am relieved.

The pressure of posting something every day has led to me putting out material that I have been less than happy about on many occasions. I have found that quite stressful. To paraphrase the immortal Eric Morecambe, they might have been all the right words but they weren’t necessarily always in the right order. Whilst it’s good to have learned from the experience I don’t think there would be anything to gain now by continuing with the same commitment every day.

I’m going to keep blogging regularly but I want to write when I feel I really have something to say and to spend more time working on each piece until I feel happy with it. I think there is more chance of improving my writing that way rather than focussing on quantity.

There have been quite a few days this month when I have really struggled to come up with a subject and ended up writing several posts that have all ended up in the digital bin because I really didn’t think they had any value. I’m still trying to find my feet in terms of subject matter and style so I apologise for the crazy randomness of the topics over the last thirty days. Hopefully most readers will have had the common sense not to persevere with the posts that weren’t to their taste. If anybody has any feedback on what style or subject matter they find most entertaining I would love to hear it. You can comment on the blog or send me a message on FB, Twitter or by e-mail. (See the contact page)

Thanks to all of you that have taken the time to read this stuff and for the encouraging feedback you have provided both here on Clockwise Words, on Social Media and privately. I love the process of writing and sometimes I just put something together and then confine it to a dusty folder on the hard drive, but when I do decide it is worth sharing it’s the thought that I might have provided a little bit of entertainment or amusement that makes it so rewarding.

And if there is anybody out there that has actually read all 17,935 January words (plus 452 for today) then I owe you a pint, or a cup of tea. You’ve earned it.

Thoughts on ‘What Goes Around’ by Emily Chappell

I’ve never attempted to write a book review and I’m not sure if that is what this is but I promised you I would let you know what I thought of Emily Chappell’s debut book, What Goes Around, so here goes.


Great book, average carpet

I have to say that I approached the book with high expectations having read a couple of reviews and heard Emily being interviewed on Woman’s hour on Radio 4 and also on the BBC’s Meet the Author both of which refer to the quality of the writing in between asking crass questions like “why do cyclists jump red lights”. I freely admit that if I didn’t know Emily from her blog I probably would never have bought this book as the subject matter itself doesn’t really grab me. I will begrudgingly admit to a certain admiration for the combination of cool and skill that cycle couriers exude and having owned a ‘fixie’ (single speed fixed wheel bicycle) for a couple of years I do see the appeal but I am not a fan of London or cities in general and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know all the gritty details of a cycle courier’s daily grind. These things aside I still opened the book with a certain frisson of anticipation and excitement.

As I hoped and expected it didn’t take more than a few pages to realise that this was a book with layers. On the top there is the often exquisitely described feelings of triumph and terror when engulfed by the madness of London’s traffic whilst balancing on two skinny wheels and the sheer frustration of simply trying to find the destination belonging to the address written on the package for delivery. I loved the description of Soho coming alive in a morning and the refuse lorry that will  “shatter the silence, the ear-drums of passers-by and a thousand empty bottles as they pour from two upended dustbins into the open lorry’s mouth ” and many other lovingly crafted images of the sights and smells of the city. Constantly weaving through this graphic picture are the people and the relationships that are the real meat of the book for me. The tears and the laughter, camaraderie and friendship and most of all the love, the lovers and the heartbreak of loves lost. In parts the book is raw with emotion and Emily doesn’t hold back in laying bare her soul as she slaloms between battles with foul mouthed and sometimes violent van drivers, the unique pain that only a broken heart can bring and the sexual tension on meeting a potential new lover.

The final layer to this sweet, sweet cake is the writing. I freely admit that there were parts of the book where I had had enough of the minutiae of what it takes to get a parcel from A to B but the writing always carried me through via a turn of phrase or delightful analogy that brought a smile to my lips and, I confess, a certain envy of her craft. It’s a beautiful read.

Throughout this book about cycling and London there are subtle insights into the worlds of feminism and sexuality. Emily is refreshingly matter of fact about her own sexuality and gives us a sometimes painful and sometimes amusing glimpse of the subtle complications that being gay can add to the world of love and relationships. And a lot of men may find the book a subtle but firm reminder that there is still a long, long way to go before we can truly say that we have confined inequality of the sexes to the history books. I don’t mind admitting that I was taken aback several times by the word ‘she’ where I stereotypically expected to read ‘he’ and each time I was slightly embarrassed to be caught out again.

Finally, I want to mention passion. I recall very clearly during the early 80s watching David Bellamy on the television presenting programs about botany. I had no particular interest in the subject but his passion and enthusiasm were completely infectious. Whatever you might think of his more bizarre views on climate change, he taught me that passion for a subject was half the battle to making that subject interesting and he and other presenters and writers since have widened my perspectives on many topics I didn’t think I was interested in. Emily has that wonderful combination of passion and knowledge and an ability to communicate them through the written word and that is what makes the book as a whole a success for me. At no point reading it did I consider moving to London to pursue a career as a cycle courier but I did find myself desperately hoping that she will go on to write about her other cycling adventures around the world and whatever other escapades she gets up to. And if she suddenly develops a passion for crochet or macramé I’ll even give that a read too.

No better reward

Something wonderful happened yesterday. Somebody said on social media that what I had written in yesterday’s blog had made them laugh. There is no better reward.

No greater reward than laughter

No greater reward than laughter

I enjoy putting these posts together. Once I have my teeth into a topic the words just tumble out and before I know it I am editing the article down lest it gets too long and tedious. I re-read the initial outpouring and then comes the best bit. The fine tuning. Sometimes it’s just a single word, sometimes a sentence or whole paragraph that I change but that for me is the real fun of writing. Occasionally, like today, I will discard the entire post and topic (this is the third attempt today) because either I don’t like the writing or I don’t think it will be of any interest to anybody. It’s not a waste of time because I have still enjoyed the process; it just doesn’t see the light of day.

Once I am satisfied with what I have written, or at least as satisfied as I suspect I am going to get then I’ll post it on the web site. Then I worry. I don’t know why exactly because I tell myself I have had my pound of flesh but of course I’m just kidding myself. If I wasn’t trying to entertain anybody I wouldn’t post this stuff would I? But it’s a bit like doing stand-up comedy in an empty room.

When we were travelling it was easy because I had a story to tell. Once the blog had gathered some momentum it really wasn’t down to what I wanted. I felt that I had a duty to keep the tale going and let friends and family in particular know how we were doing. I understood that people wanted the next instalment whatever the quality. I don’t have that excuse anymore because there is no story. The writing now has to stand on its own and it’s a constant worry.

After I release a new post if there hasn’t been any reaction within a couple of hours I start to panic. Was it rubbish? Boring? Did I offend somebody inadvertently? Maybe I should stop making stuff public and just write for myself. Then somebody ‘likes’ my post and it’s OK again. Another few hours go by and I’m losing confidence again. I might even go back and re-read it once more to see if I have missed something. And so it goes on. I can of course rationalise things by reminding myself that I have had lots of favourable comments on the blog but nothing completely erases that niggle of self-doubt. Maybe it never will go away.

It’s just great to get comments and feedback on the blog because it means somebody is actually reading it. But to make somebody laugh is more than I could hope for. So thank you to that person in the empty room that laughed out loud yesterday. For me, that is the best possible reason to carry on posting this stuff.

Seven days, seven blogs. What have I started?

If you have been reading the blog again this week then you can skip this post. It’s a bit of a repeat of the first one of the year but I’ve had a change of heart and my confidence is returning, mostly thanks to some of you readers, so here is another attempt at explaining where I am.

I was really disappointed with myself for letting the blog fall by the wayside in 2015 so I thought I would start this year off with a bit of a challenge and try and get back into the swing of it. I decided not to do the #dryjanuary challenge that I did last year but it’s always nice to start things off with a bit of a test so I have promised myself I will try and write every day and actually publish what I write. The hardest part about the challenge by far is thinking up topics to write about and then being brave enough to hit the publish button. For this reason I have kept a bit of a low profile for the first week and only people that have either kept their subscription to the blog or stumbled on it by accident will have been aware of the first seven posts. I am very relieved and incredibly grateful to have received some lovely encouraging comments over the last few days though, so I’m afraid you’re stuck with me now. I’ll try and keep a daily post going throughout January and see if it becomes a habit.

As it happens it’s been quite an eventful week to start the year and I haven’t actually found it too difficult to find things to write about. From the prospect of possibly going blind in one eye to a death in the family and a visit from my sister I have ended up with a kind of pick ‘n mix counter of subject material which has been great. I haven’t even touched on learning to fly a drone yet. Well, when I say fly, it’s more a case of launching the thing into the air and then seeing which piece of furniture or potted plant it will destroy next. (The spider plant is looking very neat at the moment.) It’s great having interesting or amusing subjects to cover but what I would really like to crack is making the writing speak for itself rather than relying on the story. That’s the challenge that really fires me up. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than reading something and realising that it is actually the writing that I am enjoying as much as or even more than the subject matter.

I am conscious of the fact that this blog started life as an account of a cycle adventure and I know lots of people who followed that story have got bored and gone away now but I make no apologies for that. I’m sure I will touch on cycling again once we get back on the bikes but for now this blog is my play thing. It’s a chance to play with words and phrases and to try and be creative. To try to turn jumbled thoughts into understandable ideas, to paint pictures that convey feelings and emotions or just to tell a story in a way that might amuse the reader. I would like to be able to promise that everything I write will be funny, incisive, entertaining and meaningful but it’s very unlikely to be a promise I could keep. What I can promise is that I will enjoy the writing and if a few people enjoy the reading then I’ll be happy.

Here’s a nice picture just to say thanks for sticking with me this far.

You can't beat a rainbow over the sea

You can’t beat a rainbow over the sea

Excited about this book

I have pre-ordered a copy of this book and I am eagerly awaiting delivery in the next week or two. It’s a book about the life of a cycle courier in London and you might think it a strange choice because I am not really interested in cycle couriering and I don’t particularly like London. I am only excited because of who wrote the book. Emily Chappell, the author, has been writing an excellent blog for over five years now and I always look forward to her posts. I have met her a few times and she is a lovely engaging person who endlessly plays down her prodigious cycling achievements and award winning writing talent. On one level she is just another cyclist who is good company, easy to talk to and somebody I admire because she can cycle further and faster than I ever will. But she is also, that rare example of a writer who is able to engage me in her subject matter whatever that subject matter might be.

I admit to being biased because some of Emily’s writing has involved epic cycling adventures and the sheer audacity of her journeys would be worth reading about even if the writing was only average, which it isn’t. Cycling across deserts at break neck speed to beat visa deadlines or riding through Alaska in temperatures so low that even a simple puncture can lead to a life threatening situation are the kind of material that any writer ought to thrive on, and she does. What is remarkable about Emily’s writing though is that I wait eagerly for her next blog post and I really don’t mind whether it’s about riding through the night on a transcontinental bicycle race or a stripped bare account of how she dealt with depression after returning from the first stage of her round the world ride. It’s the writing that comes first and it brings the subject along with it kicking and screaming. When she is writing about solo cycle touring it also becomes clear very quickly that the subject isn’t cycling at all. Like all the best writers the apparent topic is merely a courier for something deeper and more meaningful and as such it really doesn’t matter whether you are a cyclist or not. You are a human being and the engagement comes from how a fellow human being opens up and exposes our basic motivations and desires. She has a way of drilling down into the core of what makes us tick and that is what appeals to me.

I am looking forward to finding out what it’s like to be a cycle courier and learning something about life in London but I am looking forward much more to the writing and to what lies beneath the surface subject. I’ll let you know what I think in due course. In the meantime, this is what it’s like to ride up a mountain in the dark.

Writing again

I think it’s time to start writing again. I really struggled last year to keep the blog going and it’s taken me quite a while to work out what was wrong. I think I finally understand what has been going on and how to fix it. Fix it for me that is. It might not be quite so interesting for anybody coming along to read this but we will see.

The blog started as a record of our bicycle trip around Britain but in the end it became a bit of a monster. I was quite taken aback by the positive response to some of the posts I put up and I suppose, if I am honest, the tail began to wag the dog. I thrived on the feedback and as the journey progressed I think my writing got more ambitious and I received some very flattering comments. It was only once we got back and I struggled for material to write about that I lost confidence and the posts became first erratic and eventually dried up completely. Now, finally, I understand what went wrong. I had become hooked on the comments and feedback and I was writing for the attention rather than the pleasure. Without any interesting subject matter I felt that what I wrote would be boring, people would stop reading it and then I would feel like a failure so there was no point in writing. It has taken me over a year to realise that I need to go back to writing because I like writing and if people find it entertaining then that’s a bonus, not a reason to write.

Strangely, something similar happened with the cycling. Last spring Gill and I started to go out on our bikes again but it took us a while to work out that we were only doing it because it was expected of us, not because we wanted to do it. It’s such an easy trap to fall into, making other people’s expectations the reason for doing things rather than the reaction to doing them. Gill has since got back on her bike because she wanted to. I am still waiting for the urge to return.

I’m going to try and write something every day this year and see how it develops. It does mean, of course, that if you do keep coming back to read this you will probably find it quite boring. Sorry, that’s the way it has to be I’m afraid. It may be that once in a while I will produce something that other people want to read but I will understand if you have given up on me by then. I myself have given up on a lot of bloggers over the course of this last year so I can hardly complain can I? I’m also going to stop publicising the blog posts and leave it to chance whether people stumble upon them or not. I’m trying really hard to convince myself that I’m doing it for me, not you. Who am I trying to kid? I know.

Well that’s it, all I have to do now is think of something to write about tomorrow.


Risk and uncertainty

Well that’s the dry January challenge out of the way. Giving up alcohol for a month definitely felt like it had two sides to it. It was a challenge, no doubt about that and I am enjoying the sense of achievement, but alcohol and its potential for addiction and damage lent a certain gravitas to that particular trial and now I am looking forward to something a little less serious. And maybe easier.

I came across the concept of a thirty day challenge about a year ago when I listened to this TED talk and it has intrigued me ever since. Having set about doing the dry January thing I listened to the talk again and I am fascinated by the potential change it can bring about.  It feels like it might be a voyage of discovery and if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you will know I like that kind of journey.

Amongst outdoor types there is a lot of talk and excitement right now about ‘micro adventures’. It was started by adventurer and blogger Alastair Humphreys and seems to have taken on a life of its own. There are Micro Adventure Facebook groups springing up all over the place. People will typically climb a hill and bivouac out under the stars for just one night.

Just the place for a cosy night's sleep

Just the place for a cosy night’s sleep

They try to capture some of the excitement and sense of risk that adventures bring without having to commit to weeks or months away from home. I love the idea but I really don’t think it has to stop at ruffty tuffty outdoor stuff. If you look up ‘adventure’ in the dictionary you get various different definitions but I particularly like this one; “the participation or willingness to participate in things that involve uncertainty and risk”. There is no mention of mountains, freezing temperatures or frostbite. Nothing about physical endurance or working through pain barriers. Which brings me back to this thirty day thing.

The idea is simply to do something different for thirty days and see what the outcome is. When I say different, it might involve giving something up or it might involve doing something you don’t normally do. Either way it will certainly involve uncertainty and it may involve some kind of risk. (Such as discovering that you are an alcoholic after all.) This suggests that by definition it must be an adventure. Or at the very least a micro adventure.

My own thirty day challenge this month is to write something every day. I’ve set a lower limit of three hundred words per day and depending on the outcome I may publish some of them here or I may store them in my overflowing digital waste bin. It isn’t necessarily about writing a blog every day, just the discipline of practising the writing process and honing a skill that gives me a lot of pleasure. There is an element of testing myself which I like. It’s also an adventure.

Writing something every day definitely fits the definition. Goodness knows what kind of drivel might ensue (uncertainty) and publishing could expose me to any amount of ridicule (risk). I’m quite excited by this February challenge. I love a good adventure. Now where do I buy an expedition grade armchair to work from?

Oh, and thanks to my friend Sue for the wonderful hashtag of #writesaidfeb.

Blogging a dead cause

You will tell me if I become a boring blogger won’t you? It’s something that’s been on my mind today. I have just been back and read my very first virgin blog post because it touched on the potential entertainment value of a personal diary versus a public blog. Way back then, last October in fact, I was making the decision to blog rather than simply keeping a private log of our days on the road. The latter is useful and interesting only to those on the actual journey and maybe one or two close friends and family members. The public blog on the other hand has to be so much more than a daily, blow by blow record of weather, distance, gradients and time keeping. You know what I mean; “We woke to blue/grey/black skies and were packed and away by 8/9/10am. The road was surprisingly easy/difficult/steep/flat” …….. and so on, and so on until, “we pitched the tent at 4/5/6pm ………” Nobody wants to read that kind of thing but I am a little worried that I might drift into it once we are on the road.

It was definitely a wise choice to start the blog so long before our departure because it has enabled me to practice writing and, more importantly, forced me to write about subjects other than the preparations for the trip. After all, there is only so much entertainment to be squeezed out of packing lists and self storage units. And it’s been a tough squeeze at times I can tell you. I do worry though, that having had so much time to contemplate the meaning of life, once on the road my writing will become consumed by daily routines to the exclusion of the magic that comes from cycle touring and travelling in general. Which is why I am genuinely asking you to tell me if that starts happening. There is no necessity for you to be excessively rude or mean. Just a gentle reminder that I made a promise to try to be interesting. Something along the lines of, “that last post was a bit boring” will do fine thank you.


On a lighter note, I had an interesting interview with a careers advisor yesterday. It was very productive and has given me something to think about in terms of work in the future. If, in the unlikely event that the blog isn’t serialised by Radio 4 before being turned into a Hollywood Blockbuster starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt cycling around Britain, at least I’ll have something to fall back on.

Giving and taking

A bit of an update on how our preparations are going.

It’s been quite a week in the house of the Clockwise words this week. The momentum for our trip feels like it’s really developing now. I think I am spending about 75% of my spare time doing things connected with preparations and planning.

The week began with getting rid of the remaining two pieces of furniture that we aren’t putting into storage and because they were big and heavy they were very noticeably gone after they had been collected. The space created kind of shouts,”this is really happening” every time I look at it.


Room to play

It’s also been the busiest week on the blog and on social media with Gill’s article about Indian Squats smashing all previous blog stats. What is it about toilets and toileting that is so fascinating? We have also had, via social media, no less than two offers of accommodation and potentially new friends in the making. I don’t think those two things are connected. I hope not. I really love this side of the project, the way it leads to communication with other bloggers, cyclists and travellers and how those conversations lead to potential meetings and friendships. I am also very excited and flattered to have had something I have written published! It doesn’t involve money, printing or book signing sadly but it’s a start. I submitted an article to another bloggers web site and they were kind enough to say nice things about it and include it on their site.

We now have several potential places to stay on our coastal odyssey, enough to warrant constructing a new Google map to keep track of where they are and with contact details of the generous hosts. And in another nice development we have people who are planning to join us for a few miles or a few days even along the way. Shout up if you would like keep us company too, the more the merrier.

On a practical note my bike has been completely overhauled by our friend Colin who trades as ‘The Bike Magician‘ and is an absolute wizard of a bike mechanic. I am due to pick it up tomorrow and deliver Gill’s bike for similar treatment. I can’t wait to see all the shiny new components on it and try it out on a test ride. Fingers crossed for fine weather.

TLC for the steed

TLC for the steed


Finally, and by no means not insignificantly, in terms of commitment, we have had our first charitable donations. My former employers, Beaverbrooks the Jewellers, (I only worked for them on a temporary three month contract) have donated fifty pounds to each of our two charities and my lovely sister has chipped in with some more.

Its all happening at an increasingly intense pace and gets more exciting by the day. I really can’t wait to get pedalling now.