It's almost five years since I wrote the post below; some people loved it, others thought it disgusting, and after the passing of five years, I've become largely indifferent to it. I regret the infamy it earned me, but must admit to being more embarrassed at the clumsiness and tone of the writing, rather than the core of the sentiments expressed. I wrote the post some days after my return, still in a state of shock at the sudden transition from life on the road, back to the city of London. I wouldn't plead any sort of temporary insanity, but it'd be wrong to suggest I wasn't affected by the change.
In 2009 I was typified as an 'angry, young man'. In 2014, I'm still angry at lots of things, though more calmly, and with any luck more productively, too.
I also still believe that the 23 year olds of the world should be angry, and often furious, at many unfairnesses in the world they will inherit. Where they are not, the world will be a poorer place for it.
My book, Life Cycles, is published on June 2nd 2014. You can order it anywhere online, but I'd be happiest if you bought it from a book shop.
I leave this post untouched, however much I'd like to delete it, and in order to allow others make up their own minds. I think Life Cycles a far better reflection on the ride itself, and the reasons for which I once broke a record for a circumnavigation by bicycle.
All the best
Well... I'm home.... After getting that record stuff over and done with, a couple of houses in the Normandy countryside were then the venue for an attempt at the most beautiful people ever assembled under a single roof, and the rest of the weekend passed in a mist of not sleeping enough and drinking too much. All of which was exactly as it should have been. I'm now back in London, this morning had the joy of riding a fixed gear track bike once again, without any bags in sight, and I suppose that things will slowly start to become normal again. I suppose.
I don't really know what to talk about, what to say... It was amazing, it was beautiful, it was a joy. For the final month I must have been averaging close to 150 miles a day, it wasn't as leisurely as I would have liked it to have been, it still wasn't going to 'hell and back', as one guy said Mark Beaumont had done... If Mark Beaumont did go to hell and back, then he was doing it all wrong.
There are a few practical concerns that I wish to stress. Between broken wheels, brakes being broken by Iberia airlines, and a crank arm snapping, I lost a total of about 6 whole days not going anywhere... I don't want to use that as an "I could have done it quicker' platform, but I do want to stress that I was riding only a Tout Terrain frame, which performed magnificently throughout. The wheels, the cranks, the brakes, none of those components were supplied by Tout Terrain, are not representative of the quality of the components that the guys in Freiburg use, and I would be devastated if people were to interpret my mechanical mishaps as the fault of a really excellent business that sells really excellent bikes. The problems were a combination of misfortune and my perhaps all-too cavalier attitude to certain things, but still, it made things interesting.
As for myself and my plans... I'm going to defer a return to the world of bicycle couriering for as long as I can afford to, which is perhaps about another ten days... Once I am back on the streets, I work for Excel couriers, and if you want your packages delivered by a world record holder, just ask for Kilo22. I am prepared to relay anecdotes from the road, though it will be charged as waiting time, and at a rate of £6 an hour... which is really very cheap, I can't imagine you'd get Marketing Beaumont talking to you at such a price. Over and above that, I'll be giving a talk at Stanfords, Covent Garden, sometime in the New Year, based around the themes of Travel, Adventure and Society ... If I fail to come up with a more imaginative title than 'Travel, Adventure and Society', then I ask you not to hold it against me, I'm sure I tried. There is an exhibition (though I don't particularly like that word) of writing and photos to be held, but I have the pleasant difficulty of not being sure of which offered venue I'm going to hold it in, so more news as and when. My main goal, and a challenge that holds far more meaning to me than any world record, is to write a book that at least I am satisfied with the merit of ... this process is already well underway, with the magnificent working title of 'Celine was Betrayed'. Don't expect some drab, motivational, sports monologue telling you that on day 71 I had 38 punctures, but cunningly managed to fix them all with the skin of a dead squirrel I found beside the road...a valuable lesson, no less applicable to the corporate sector, of how one can overcome difficulties and still cycle 93 miles on the day in question. On the contrary, you can expect some drab, depressing story, for that's what I want to write, a story, rather than just an account. We'll see how it goes. I'm not sure of what to do with things like my blog, whether or not to write the occassional thing, but all significant developments and events will be broadcast through Twitter, the Facebook group, and the website, in some form or another.
So now for what I want to say. A part of it is directly from me, a part of it is a response to some things that have been posted as comments on my blog over the past six months.
What I want to say concerns Mark Beaumont, and completing that all-but meaningless record was motivated, more than anything, by earning my license, having done exactly as he did, to say exactly what I thought of him. I have no respect for him. I regard him as a lifeform some way inferior to the dead skin that accumulates in the seat of my crotch after three weeks of cycling a desert without washing. We're the same age, we're both politics graduates, and so I feel sufficiently close to a part of his demographic that I feel no desire to make excuses or allowances for him that I would never make for myself.
His style of media reminds me of Where's Wally with a bicycle twist thrown in, his self-aggrandising titles of THE MAN WHO cycled the world, who cycled the Americas, display no honesty or humility to the fact that the likes of 74-year-old Ian Hibell, killed tragically by a Greek hit-and-run driver last year, had already cycled the world a handful of times when THE MAN, Mark Beaumont, was still suckling his mother and shitting in his pants.
But all that bombast is forgivable, it's pretty human stuff really... what I can't get over is the wholesale corporate sellout, and these few days I'm moved more than ever by the notion that it could ever be possible to complete an experience as beautiful as mine was, and as beautiful as I expect Beaumont's was, and that a person could be moved so little by that experience that they would commodify it as an asset to sell to a bank. To a fucking bank. I suppose Beaumont, 'the adventurer' ... had actually sold his adventure to a bank, an investment fund, and a hotel group, before he even left, so it wasn't really anything new to him... He throws around the word 'adventure' an awful lot, but if adventure has a spirit and a meaning over and above going to obscure places on a bicycle, Beaumont has none of it. I met a man in New Mexico, at the foot of a pass, Mike, from Montana. His wife cleared out and left him years back, and he just decided to hit the road, riding to where it's warmer for the winter, riding to where he can find some labouring work to pay for him to keep going. He loves his life, he loves riding. That's adventure... to have no fear of all the uncertainty, Mark Beaumont isn't an adventurer, he's a travelling pragmatist... Someone told me that, for his round-the-world adventure, he had a £25000 budget with which to help adventure his way through all the uncertainty life could throw at him. What a hero.
I had sponsors too, and I have a confession to make... Madison, who supply bike stores up and down the country, were bought a few years ago by a PLC whose name I forget... Anyway, that PLC also own the company that manufactures those little, Christmas tree-shaped air freshners that hang from car mirrors and smell so unpleasantly perfumed. I know, I know, I'm a shameless sellout too, but they offered me £300 of clothing for extreme weather conditions, and in return I didn't have to endorse them as saviours of humanity or principled pillars of the world economy... I know... I know... I'm a hypocrite.
But what else... Someone said, with reference to this point, that they saw no wrong in Beaumont accepting money from Orange or from Lloyds TSB in order to fund his next trip. I do. Travelling is, in reality, a pretty selfish thing, a pretty decadent thing too... you go out there, on your own, and see beautiful things, and you remove yourself from the society you actually came from in the first place. And, you know, if I were to weigh the challenge and the adventure of staying in my own society, and trying to make a positive difference to that sad place, against the challenge and the adventure of pedalling my beloved bicycle in beautiful places, with a GPS system on my bicycle in case of emergencies, and a credit card in my wallet for the greatest hardships... well, I know which I perceive to be the greater adventure, and certainly the greater challenge. If someone is prepared to make travelling their life, and is prepared to endorse the most unscrupulous of businesses in order to fund that life, is prepared to lend them the beauty of his adventure to disguise the ugliness of their business... personally, I couldn't think of anything more selfish than that, and I may have called myself 'not for charity' rather than the innocuous 'pedalling around', but I'm motivated to make a positive difference in society, not just to enjoy myself on my bicycle at all costs. I have no time for this self-congratulatory culture of 'the adventurer', and when those adventurers are prepared to shack-up with Lloyds TSB, to me they represent nothing but the white, middle-class, boy, in all of the worst aspects of that stereotype. No amount of pedalling the world can change that fact, and indeed, it actually makes it worse.
But of course, I'm forgetting, Beaumont wasn't in it for himself. He was doing it for charity, and he apparently raised in the region of a whole £20,000. Marvellous. In the modern economy, is it only me who is fully aware of how useless £20,000 actually is? He raised £20,000 for good causes, and I don't deny that they're good causes, but then he said that he was proud, PROUD, to be a corporate ambassador for Lloyds TSB, who represent a multi-trillion pound economic normalcy that destroys the planet and the societies Beaumont's charities aim to protect.
The other month I saw that he was in Nicaragua, lamenting on behalf of a farmer who would get only a handful of bucks for his lettuce harvest. And yet he is a PROUD ambassador of a bank that represents Davos, that represents the Washington Consensus, that represents an agricultural mega-company like Monsanto, who engineer sterile seeds so that Beaumont's Nicaraguan lettuce farmer has to buy a new round of seeds from Monsanto, rather than the traditional method of collecting seeds from the best plants of his crop. Monsanto, hard workers that they are, turn over about $5billion of profit a year.
There's too much reticence in our society when it comes to saying 'I'm sorry, but what you are doing is shit, and that, sir, makes you a cunt' ... And I may have just used the word cunt (again), but Mark Beaumont is a proud ambassador of Lloyds TSB, and they've got £700,000,000 invested in the UK arms industry alone, with links to the manufacture of cluster munitions, and if you want to Google an image search for cluster bombs, and what they do to people, or read-up on it at the Handicap International website. I know which I think is worse. Even with that, I'm not giving straightforward condemnation of the arms trade, it employs a lot of people, gives them their livelihoods, but it shouldn't be endorsed using the beauty of cycling around the world. There's nothing in common.
I know many talented and brilliant individuals, they work with refugees, with art, with music, with organic farming, architecture with recycled materials, who work in policy concerning climate change, in designing sustainable transport models, who develop green spaces in urban areas, who work with photovoltaic and solar technologies. It's unfair, and it's greatly handicapping of true social progress, that all of those selfless people can have their work impeded by socio-economic orthodoxy, as endorsed by Mark Beaumont, and for that endorsee not to be called a wanker for his behaviour. Am I being harsh? I certainly thought more about what it truly meant to endorse Lloyds TSB than Mark Beaumont did, I suppose he had cashing a cheque to consider, but that's part of the problem, society does not hold people to account because society dictates that it's acceptable to trade just about anything for monetary gain.
I could say so much more... But I shan't... There are three further comments I wanted to address.
One man, in the very early days, had the decency to descend from his throne on Mount Parnassus to pronounce that 'I write with promise, but with a Fight-Club-esque, angry, young man ethos.' Now, I'm not sure what I think of a writer I've never heard of, who uses 'Fight Club' as an adjective, and qualifies his compliments so heavily, but still, psychology being what it is, I took immediate umbrage at someone saying this of me, and it took about two months to fully comprehend that that is exactly what I am, an angry young man, and without any shame or regret at this fact. I don't like the creed of modern liberalism, whereby political radicalism is substituted for listening to the music of wailing Icelanders, and mixing your own muesli, using pumpkin seeds, for the selenium. Nobody turned on the Roundheads and criticised them for being 'angry, young men' ... nor the Chartists, nor those who rioted in Hyde Park to secure the Second Reform Act... We live in an age of decreasing social mobility, of increasing social inequality, increasing monopolisation of power and wealth, a world where anti-depressants are now being prescribed to children whilst a pharmaceutical giant like Pfizer turns over more than $10billion annually. The IT contract for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs was renewed with CapGemini and Fujitsu, even though their prior performance overran and went over-budget, but perhaps because CapGemini and Fujitsu lavished hospitality upon the HMRC decision maker, with dinners at the Eiffel Tower and Berkley Square amongst the itinerary. Now, we have an anti-corruption act that prohibits 'excessive hospitality', but obviously that doesn't mean an awful lot in reality. And then there's my friend, Steve, who was forced by building regulations to use steel joists for his attic conversion, when timber would have comfortably sufficed... but rules are rules, and so four of us lifted three girders into the attic on a Saturday afternoon, because rules are rules. Unless of course you're Tesco, and you get planning permission for a store of 9,000 square metres, but build one 20% bigger, at 11,000 square metres, because that's the size you wanted. Those who don't think that there are good reasons for anger in modern society should go for a long and adventurous walk in the desert.
And what more, I promise I'm winding things up, and I don't mind if you stop reading. One chap said that my ideas, implemented, would just sentence everyone to an equal misery. Aside from the fact that I don't know exactly what 'my ideas' are, still less how the chap in question discovered them all, I reject the notion that our society is so full of joy, lacking in misery, as things stand. Last I checked, we had overpopulated prisons and a government whose only response to this was building more prisons to lock-up more people, we had big money being made from looking after our degenerative elderly, we had 270,000 registered addicts of class-A drugs (which actually means that there are a lot more than 270,000 addicts of class-A drugs), we had obesity and adverts reminding people to exercise, and young people, bless-em, had come to feel so excluded by society and it's norms, goals and values that they were taking to stabbing one another at the weekends. Just as I was leaving, the authorities of London had responded to this grave problem using a good old-fashioned poster, with a bunch of kids, with different skin pigments and eye-dimensions, dressed in dungarees and striped jumpers, holding up the letters to spell-out 'It's our city too'... perhaps that brilliant piece of policymaking had worked by the time the comments were made.
The final remark I want to address was 'it's a shame that such an epic adventure should be motivated by 'this is not for charity', or in other words 'this is not for love'. If not for love, then is anger, cynicism and hate the best way to view life?'
My ride was purely for love; for love of cycling, for love of the beautiful experiences I've had whilst travelling on my bicycle. It genuinely enraged me, from the start, to see Mark Beaumont doing what he did with his undertaking... he could just as easily have ridden under 'this is not for charity'... he's not a James Bowthorpe, who has a cause that he cares deeply for and is giving his life too, I have only respect for that. Some people don't see cycling in the same way that I do, and thus don't understand my message at all... it can't be helped. For the record, I did actually put up links to four non-profit organisations on my website; if you were too miserly to give to them, it's not my fault. If your sense of compassion is so lethargic that you need photos of starving children to think that something is wrong in the world, that's not my fault either.
Had I undertaken the ride under the banner of one charity in particular, it would have been one working with drug abuse. I know so many people who have been touched by drugs, and so many of them are involved with them precisely because they're inquisitive and creative people growing up in a mainstream culture that becomes increasingly homogenised and restrictive. On my bike I thought often of a guy called Wayne, from my hometown, my sister's best friend... such a gentle guy, so kind, such life in him... he died from a heroin overdose when he was about the age that I am now... I cried my little fucking eyes out, thinking of Wayne as I rode out of the Chinese mountains... I don't like slapping my heart onto my sleeve, for dawes to peck at, but it'd be nice for people to understand. I don't want someone to give £5 to a charity for substance abuse and then to have DONE THEIR BIT and go and vote for the damn Tory party anyway... and I don't see what good a charity can do when society is run according to a formula that will only churn out sadness after sadness anyway. I'm cynical alright... my cynicism is absolutely caustic, but you have to care a lot to work-up a cynicism this potent... As for hate... I love the world in so many ways, but there are people in this world who obviously don't, and they use words like 'ambition' to cloak what is actually such despicable behaviour. They evoke hatred in me, it's not my fault.
Believe it or not, I could still say so much more
To the Happy Few.
Life Cycles is released on June 2nd 2014
Life Cycles is released on June 2nd 2014