The People in Our Paths #2

Canterbury to Melton Mowbray [Part 2]: Sunday 23 July 2017

16:50. Market Place, Melton.

Nine days since receiving the confirmation. Ten days since receiving the warning about what was happening and wondering how in the hell we’d get from there to here.

We’re here.

We’ve journeyed across five countries, almost incidentally, in order to do so.

Despite the circumstances that impelled the detour, we’ve been able to take in: the fabulous riding experience that is Belgium, the scarily erratic to quirkily quaint North of France, the real beauty of Kent, and the, to be fair, not-too-shabby scenery surrounding my old stomping grounds.

The bicycle moments of feeling a place on all of the senses would have been tragic to miss on a headlong, blind dash here. We’ve felt and experienced them together, as we always intended to try and do once we made our first tentative steps towards achieving this way of life a little over two years ago.

Every cloud. As always.

And there would always have been a feeling that some of the world was missing if we’d never made it to England on our outing, so something else to appreciate.

And, of course, last but not least – people: the kindness and generosity of people.

Through our mediated lives, we are led to believe that the world is populated by untold monsters, psychos and fanatics ready to take your life, your belongings or your principles at the drop of a hat.

Then you get out and you meet people; you open your need to people; your self to people. Love is returned and is never the less touching for being much more ubiquitous than our subscriber channels would like us to believe.

Thank you so so much: Peter and family in Asse, Isabelle and Tom in Aalter-Brug, restaurant-lady in Schoorbakkehoeve, and Chris and Caroline in Canterbury. You warmed our hearts on our mini-odyssey here.

Now to family I see all too rarely, so, despite the circumstances, I hope we’re able to enjoy some quality moments together.

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Isabelle and Tom

Aalter-Brug to Schoorbakkehoeve: Wednesday 19 July 2017

“Excuse me, do you have any idea where we might be able to camp around here tonight?” Unhesitatingly, casually, without any pause to reflect on negatives: Isabelle, “You can stay in our garden.”

Easy.

We followed a horse drawing a cart carrying two pairs of identical twins and two sisters.

Invited to drink with everyone at the table.

Space made in the garage so we didn’t have to camp outside – there was talk of a storm, which didn’t happen, coming.

Invited to join them for dinner. It was no trouble: the food was already prepared.

“Would you like to use the shower? Here it is, and there are two towels. And here’s the toilet.”

“Would you like an aperitif before dinner? Whisky and coke? Rum and coke? Gin and tonic? Something else?”

Conversation with a friendly, open, young family and their friends in the beautiful garden of the beautiful house they are renovating on the banks of the Ghent-Brugges Canal. With a menagerie of chickens, geese, sheep, horses, the runaway dog and the curious cat: “What’s in this tent? Let me in! Let me in!”

“Would you like another drink?”

“Would you like to try this?”

Interesting talk. Interesting people.

More good people.

As the night drew to a close: “Let me show you the code to the house, so you can get in if you need access during the night; for the toilet, for a shower, for something from the fridge, food from the kitchen, water from the taps. Oh, and there are crates of bottled water, beer and various other things. Feel like at home.”

“Sorry to keep repeating this, but thank you so much.”

“It’s normal. If I were doing such a journey, I would like it if people did the same for me.”

It’s normal.

We’re strangers.

The world is not a scary place … if you’re not afraid.

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Connections

Vienna to Nürnberg: Saturday 15 July 2017

“Introduce a little variety.”

Never ones to allow things to get stale, we now find ourselves on our second, of what promises to be who-knows-how-many trains to, well, ultimately Calais; then, from Calais, to Dover

… by ferry

… hopefully.

Since Thursday a new, not entirely unexpected, but not the less unpleasant for that, sense of drama and emotion has been injected into the mix.

On an already emotionally tumultuous morning, whose occurrence feels spooky with hindsight, as the Czech/Austrian border lay less than 150 metres from me, the phone rang.

My sister.

I knew.

Mum.

Twenty-nine months after the first phone-call, when I began the process of grieving the essence of my mum, the moment her fighting physical form gave signs of resignation towards maintaining itself.

According to my sister, it could be as little as 24 hours.

This is the kind of information you feel you should be able to do something with. On a bike between two countries you have never called home, with nothing any longer like a home in the traditional bricks and mortar sense lying anywhere, with all that we own packed into the panniers attached to the only other concrete material things we possess, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, or what I could do.

I knew that I had to get to England as soon as possible, for as long as necessary. I knew that I was in no situation at all to be able to drop everything, pause life here and fly there. This just wasn’t possible. The only option, which I guess made it a kind of solution, was to keep moving forward, play it by ear and cross the most appropriate bridge when the river presents itself.

On we went.

Having been put in touch with them through something of a European middleman for permaculture projects and eco-communities, Benjamin Smit – thank you Benjamin, and then checking out their online profile as nomadic souls who had met somewhere along their paths, settled down, and retained and developed their free-living spirit, I had been looking forward to meeting our hosts for the evening, Lisa and Joey. Different people, likeminded souls. It would be a shame if I couldn’t fully engage with my present due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. But what will be will be: it will just be a question of paying respect to both moments as far as is possible.

We arrived in Mailberg, and what a beautiful warm welcome from the abundance of life in their home – from flora to fauna.

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The ride to Vienna was beautiful indeed; from the simply functional exactly-what-the-doctor-ordered breakfast; to the climbing up to greet the Alps; to the exciting descents, and the tailwind-assisted roll into Vienna; to sharing the way with the impressive Danube – wow! impressively set and impressive in size, and a great cycle path alongside it to enjoy it: you can certainly feel how Vienna came to be such an economic and political powerhouse with such a river to service its settlers.

And the arrival came. Another welcoming us as a friend, as we slung our things inside her cool tenement apartment in the heart of the city.

The evening was kept simple with a couple of beers at a Hofbrau place just a hop and a skip from the flat. Then bed beckoned: the blow-up mattresses serving us indoors as well as out.

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As the morning opened up to let us in

a beep from my phone.

About a day and a half from the call came the text to confirm the feeling:

mum’s body had passed.

The river was here, but no bridge to be seen: you just look where you want to be and build it yourself.

England? From Vienna? Where will A stop? When are the flights? really infrequently; like two times a week; and we really can’t hang on, indefinite in time, waiting for the time the body’s cleared for the funeral.

Make our way to Bratislava. By the time we get there – 24 hours, we may know more. I can fly; A can stay and … or maybe steadily creep back to Poland’s door, where we can kick our heels while waiting for the call.

A plan.

Yes, a plan.

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Vienna we enjoy as best we can, with a semblance of normality; and, to be honest, the powerful architecture did its job turning introspection into admiration. But with emotions so high, through this and through that, we tired soon and thoughts turned to food and beer.

A meal was cooked, and beer was drunk,
and a chilled evening smoothed edges,
and a hazy sleep came and welcomed me in
Making films out of childhood heroes.

I awoke feeling smooth,
until a little jar jagged
and all that was gone was returned.
And my partner in time echoed my mind
We’re going to England together.

The journey we’re on is always the one
We go where it takes us together.
The form may now change
as time rears its essence,
but it’s on the same path we set out.

We set out June 30.
Since then, more than ever
Plans became plots
that circumstance chose to deny
Neusiedler See
turned to Bratislava
Pausing our journey together

We continue along united
Together from here to there

And here was Vienna
and there is England
with who-knows-what in between?
And ferries and riding
with all that we have
Nomadic, with a geographical purpose.

Part of the journey
that makes up a life
Negotiating unforeseen corners

Respecting the life that passed in the night
to share in the love of close family
My partner in time beside me
The way that our path has to take

And feelings so right can’t be wrong

We can all make plans and prepare, but life has to be lived as it is experienced; not as an idea on a piece of paper.
As we set off to a club from our separate lives back in the Spring of 2000 till we closed the doors on our flat in Kraków, we’ve been journeying together one way or another.
This is just a little more overt in nature.

Now we carry all that we have
One place to the next
Sharing the life that we share

And this takes us there
And that brought us here
And onwards our little trip goes

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22:27. We are on train number #4 from Plattling to Regensberg, where we hope to catch a connection to Nürnberg, which is due to arrive at 1am. It looks like we’ll be stuck there until morning, so a rough night in and around the station in prospect, but this is just another tale in a relationship involving some less than conventional travelling arrangements; though having the bikes with us (of course!), but as stationary baggage rather than baggage-and-person steeds, takes this out of the Planes, Trains and Automobiles category into some kind of challenge.

But we’re good at this – I think all humans are: our flexibility and our adaptability are two of our key strengths as a species. While many may fear being plunged into the unknown and having to constantly think on their feet to get from here to where they think they’d like to be, I think this is actually where the vast majority of us shine and thrive and feel alive live live.

Maybe that’s why we set out to do what we’re doing; and why this step needs to be seen as it is: as just another part of the journey, which will become part of the narrative; part of the lives.

Not that it really matters how it’s seen, in terms of a picture. It will, however, be a piece, and though, like all of the pieces, it will stand on its own with life of its own, without it, the space that will be left, the hole that will remain, will forever diminish the value of anything coming thereafter.

As you honour the past that allowed you to be, to lend love and support to significant others, all that speaks to me is love, though not in the abstract I share and feel every day, but in the visceral way that can sometimes burn, can sometimes sting, but is the love come of blood that is life.

And we go to celebrate and honour it – as we should and as we want.

I love you mum x

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