Friday, 27 April 2012

farrahd frei

After the farewell fanfare I managed to drum up in Bristol it was in the end quite a sedate send off from Norwich, a hug from Mum at the front gate; Dad immediately cycling off out the back gate as always taking the long way round the block onto Earlham Green Lane. We took it very steady to Harwich, cycling just 40 flat miles each day and entirely missing both the afternoon rains. We spent Saturday afternoon picking crud from shoes and brake calipers after a comically muddy track into our woodland camp outside Ipswich made a mockery of my pre-trip polishing. We arrived by 2pm Sunday and spent a couple of hours squatting in a bike shed servicing my stove before the ferry check in. It was good to have the time with Dad.
Sleep surprised me on the ferry and made for a short crossing. I left Esbjerg twice on Monday afternoon. Suffice to say the second time I chose the clearly signposted and perfectly engineered cycle routes over the rather less agreeable motorway. Headwinds, rain and serial punctures conspired against my confidence along Denmark's Southern Jutland. But there were also rainbows, miles of majestic wind turbines (like something from a sci-fi ecotopia it seemed to me) and as the showers relented I found a perfect camp spot between lake and seawall; just in time to witness an enormous red sunset with macaroni, stew and cognac. Birdwatching is big in Denmark and I saw a few special looking ones on the wetland around that lake.
Tuesday was a long day, just shy of 85 miles once I'd met Marlena at Husum train station and found a quiet verge to pitch the tent quite in the urgency of nightfall. Marlena is an old friend of an old friend who responded to me inviting myself to stay at her place in Hamburg (more of which later perhaps) by inviting herself to join me in cycling down the North sea coast for a couple of days. In fact we didn't even see the sea, Marlena suggested instead that we head inland to stop the night with a friend's parents in Gribbhohm. I still hadn't picked up a map and of course Marlena had forgotten hers, so we followed our noses and the directions of various patient passers by - some people are skilled at giving directions; others enjoy it... beware the latter! 65 miles and four punctures in M's front tyre later, on the cusp of darkness, admidst a forest just South of the Baltic/North Sea shipping channel, we finally found Gribbhohm and in it M's friend's parent's country manor where we fed and slept. I shant go too far in describing the grandiosity of this particular manor house: they had a wine cellar, a forest, cattle and of course a peacock. The hospitality was immense and welcome, personal issue Crocs a nice touch for tired feet.
And then on to another big house in Hamburg. There are 17 fully grown anarchists and one baby living here, in an ex-derelict farmhouse compound thing near the river Elbe on the South Eastern outskirts of Hamburg. Apparently it was bought cooperatively three years ago and is unique in Hamburg. We arrived last night just in time for the start of one of their quarterly construction weeks. So having slept through the first two hours of work I spent the rest of today sheepishly helping to lift and install new ceiling joists in what will ultimately be the cafe area of the planned 'public space'. The organisation is impressive (a klaxon at lunchtime) it's good to see people making it work. I guess I'll stay here a few days working on the cafe and trying to dent the huge larder. Once the last piece of my new tent is finally shipped here I'll head South East along the Elbe cycle trail before making for Berlin.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

kit's off

I had thought I would try to avoid waxing sentimental about leaving my friends in the fire service. Just as I would try to avoid choking on my thank yous, all snotty and tearful over the last ham and egg supper two nights ago.  But it has been emotional and I think I owe the Avonmouth Abandoned and all the rest a little space here (not least because some of you might even read it). Rather to my own discredit, when I was young in my (four year) career I vainly tried to maintain some kind of distinction between friends and colleagues. Of course there was no specific moment at which that silly illusion folded, just loads of increasingly good times as I became increasingly sure of you all. Gradually I realised work was somewhere people wanted me to be myself, and that was only thanks to you lot making it quite clear. Then came all the great times where (almost) every shift I’ve been happy to be there, the hand tennis and the boxing, the second day Friday nights stroke Saturday mornings, running jokes, japes and mixtapes and basically the whole unconditional vibe I’ve had from all of you ever since you helped me out of my shell. Not to mention of course the solemn and not at all calamitous cycle escort from fire station to train station for my last commute. So thank you, all, again. White 05 and the rest. I’ll leave it there else I’ll well up, again.