I’m not sure exactly what it is, but for some reason I often run into random characters, who want to tell me their life story. Often they are ex-military. People seem to see what they want to see in me, and tell me things I would perhaps rather not know. I was in Lancaster, after having gone shopping at the Oxfam charity store for some books, sitting in a pub trying to have a quiet pint. The first person to sit opposite me was a traffic planner, and reasonably interesting. Apparently if you are fourth-generation unemployed, lack of access to transport facilities is not the reason you’re unemployed, and don’t want a job. Who would have thought?
We were joined by someone I’ll call Mark, for that was the name he gave. Tall, with a nose that had been broken more than once, he had the underweight appearance you associate with people with too much nervous energy, or a heroin addiction. In this case it would be the former though. All sorts of stories started coming out, about his being an ex-British Army sniper, serving in Desert Storm, working as a mercenary in South Africa, poaching game from the local laird’s land, living in Holland for years without speaking any Dutch, now living in a caravan while back here temporarily…it all came out. Somewhere along the line, I mentioned having received a hard time getting into the UK recently – well last time he came into England, he ended up in jail. And he’s a British citizen. But it’s because he’s one of those people who wants to be a prick about officialdom, not realising that sometimes the best thing to do is just play along with the petty power games. You’d think that he would have learnt that in the Army – or maybe his behaviour now is a reaction to that.
Along the way a completely wasted woman tried latching onto us, when she could barely stand (this was on a Monday night, about 7pm). We advised management, who escorted her from the premises. She’d been fine when she ordered a drink 20 minutes ago, according to the barman, and had then rapidly gone downhill, presumably having taken something. Mark tells me he sticks to beer, 8 pints is fine, he can just see straight enough to walk home…it was an interesting evening.
Lancaster was nice enough to pass through, although too many of those obviously English-looking young men, with plastered-down hair, shell suits and no chins. Silly schoolgirls wearing super short skirts, didn’t anyone tell them it’s freezing? I liked the signs along the redeveloped waterfront, referring to the place being a major trading center between West Africa and the West Indies, but having declined after 1815. No mention of what they were trading, or why it declined…it was in slaves. Whoops.
I’ve had some nice riding heading north, a bit of rain, but some superb canal riding, along the Lancaster Canal. This used to go between Lancaster and Kendal, but the northern part was filled in when the motorway was built. There are plans afoot to resurrect it though, which would be a good thing. Canals are everywhere in Britain, they are a truly impressive engineering feat. It’s interesting the way they declined, and many were filled in during the 1960s, but there has been a massive revival, as people realise that canals are fantastic for cruising along, or walking beside. More power to the people restoring them I say.
I’ve entered the Lake District, having a few easy days, between Lancaster, Ambleside and now Keswick. Easy going, sometimes a bit hilly around here, but short days matched with beautiful countryside. Far busier than I recall from 6 years ago though. Today I stopped at a circle of standing stones, at the top of a hill, in the drizzle. Too wet to take pictures, but a superb, solemn sort of a place, looking around the valleys, wondering about what the hell a bunch of eejits dragged all those big rocks all that way for.
I must make a special mention of Peter Gostelow, someone who inspired me, years ago when I was living in Edinburgh. At that time, Peter had started riding from Japan back to the UK. His was one of the websites that inspired me to start doing this. Most recently he’s started riding from the UK to Cape Town. Along the way, he’s had a few thefts, as have I. But recently things got much worse for him, when he was attacked by men with machetes, and received deep cuts to his wrist and foot. Tendon damage to his wrist means no riding for a while, and he’s in a very tough position. I think he’ll carry on, assuming he’s able to ride in a month or so, but it’s very difficult. That is almost as bad as it can get, being physically attacked. I can only wish him well, and hope he’s able to continue. There but for the grace of God…