Month: July 2015

Day 4 Mayenne to Alencon

Late.

0916.

I’ve just woken up. It is dark, very dark still. Why is there no blue sky coming through the windows? That’s because the shutters are down. So, we’ve missed breakfast and the opportunity to take our wet clothes to the laundry. Today is a ‘rest’ day of 39 miles, which gives some a bit of extra time to make up for this loss.

The phone rings and it is madame asking if we would still like breakfast. Well, tickle my arse with a feather, if we are not being shown some authentic french hospitality. It clearly states on the reception wall that breakfast is between 0700 and 0900. Past tense. And yet a miracle has just happened. We skip joyously to the breakfast room. When I say ‘skip’ I don’t mean literally, holding hands as if in preparation for a musical cabaret.

The hotel sits high above the river, and so enjoys a great view across the town to the water below. The breakfast room has wall to ceiling windows and a panoramic outlook taking in the church spire opposite, the tiled roofs, and swallows dancing between it all. What is more, is that there is blue sky. No one else is there of course, as they duly noted the 0900 rule, and so all the tables were cleared. No worries, we helped ourselves to glasses and cups and the other odd tools for self victualing. Madame enters and shows us that there is in fact a table still laid for us complete with croissants, bread and coffee cups.

Madame is in fact receptionist, cleaner, breakfast maker…anything and everything it seems. I ask if she is the sole worker here. She is. I guess she is about mid thirties, quite pretty and wearing a low cut top (Sean tells me). I did not notice, due to being hungry.

We set off about at about 1045 ish. We do not leave anything behind. except Sean has left his sunglasses, probably back in Beauvoir. We still have wet cycling kit to get dried out. Perhaps tonight’s hotel will have a balcony in the sunshine so that we can hang out the wet gear.

I’ll not bore you with the empty roads, the courteous drivers, the wonderful road surfaces, cycle lanes, bucolic scenery, blue skies and fluffy white clouds. Just to say there was lots of all of that. Sunflowers turned up today, to join the fields of wheat, maize and cows.

We climb into a village called La Chappelle au Riboul on the D113. As I admire the huge ‘chapelle’ that dominates both skyline and village, I hear a dull ‘pling’. Now, bikes don’t make ‘pling’ noises for fun. One gets used to the noise of one’s bike and so anything like a ‘pling’ indicates something. Its a bit like an unsophisticated warning light. I think that I could just get off and check, but then we are far from any help. I therefore invoke the rule that says ‘ignore it, its nothing’. Unconvinced by the application of that rule, nonetheless I carry on, pass Sean, who then informs me that the rear wheel is wobbling. Jellies wobble, toddler’s lips wobble, a decent cleavage wobbles (I refer the reader to Madame in Mayenne), wheels on a bike don’t wobble. Just like ‘on the bus’ they should go round and round. I stop and flick each spoke for the tell tale dull plunk. I duly find it, a snapped spoke.

Bugger.

Our lunch stop is Villaine la Juhel about 6-7 miles further. The bike will have to make it. I hope there is a bike shop. If there is, it will of course be closed because everything closes between 1200 and 1400. No matter, we will have coffee and wait. The wheel keeps wobbling, I am making plans B and C to cover the eventuality of no bike shop. Villaine is about the size of Illogan (not very big) and is exactly like Illogan but without the pub, football team and incest. Does Illogan have a bike shop? What are the chances that Villaine has a bike shop? If it has no bike shop, do I wobble on to Alencon, take a taxi, burst into girly tears? Tomorrow is a long day to Chartres, over 80 miles. I’m not wobbling for 80 miles. Will Alencon have a bike shop, one that is open, and will they fix the bike today? I have insurance, will it pay for repairs and repatriation to the UK? I’m thinking all of this as we cycle to Villaine.

Villaine’s huge church looms, it seems they like big churches here. Right beside it, is a bar tabac where we get coffee and information that , that ‘oui’ there is a bike shop about 500 meters down the road. It is of course closed, as it is now 1230. The sun is out so we sit outside with our coffees while some french youth ‘treat’ us to hip hop playing from their nearby window. Nice. The only other people around is a couple of young men lounging about trying to think of something clever to do with a cigarette and a baseball cap, the cafe owner and what might pass as his wife? There are no dogs, cats or camels. All is quiet, except for the hip hop droning in the background.

At about 1330 we decide to locate the bike shop. Indeed it is about 500down the road, just where M’sieur said it would be. Is it closed for lunch? Of course it is, as we expected. Will it open later? The Sign says ‘Horaires” Mercredi (today) Closed. Thats it, mid week closing.

Plan B.

Cycle on to Alencon and hope there is a shop open. It is glorious cycling country, just a few hills and undulations. The rear brake makes odd noises due to wobbliness of wheel. I am aware of the weight pressing down on it and that, in my mind, it could collapse the wheel at any time. We enter another village called St Pierre de Nids, and there on the main street is a shop that sells fishing tackle, lawnmowers and chainsaws. There are also a couple of bikes parked outside. So, we stop we pop in. Madame behind the counter shouts to the chap in the workshop out back, along the lines of “Oi, Bill, we have a couple of english idiots who need a bike fixed, come and have a look will’ ee?” Bill appears, blue oil spattered overalls, dirty blue cap, white beard and a head full of knowledge. The answer is “yes we can”.

We push the bikes out to the back of the shop where ‘Bill’ will fix the spoke. The workshop has been around since engineering was invented, and there are bits everywhere in some semblance of order. He has rack upon rack of little wooden boxes with screws, nails, and jubilee clips. He has tool boards, compressors, workbenches, drums of oil and degreaser. The radio is playing some nasty french pop and Phil Collins. On the wall he has pictures of barely clad young ladies showing their chests, underwear and charm. One picture is dated 1994. They all look to be from that era. Don’t ask me how I know how old the pictures are, I just do. I don’t think this is allowed now in modern workshops. There really ought to be an old 2CV being repaired but sadly no, just bikes, lawnmowers and chainsaws. We watch a master craftsman do his thing, changing the spoke, trueing the wheel. Soon, and 21 euros later, we are ready. This is a bargain. No appointment, straight off the street, a skilled workman.

So. No need for plan B or C, and no panic. Alencon is only 12 miles away and the rest of the ride, as it has been all day, is in sunshine. The hotel is easily found, and it has a sunny balcony. We rig up a makeshift washing line and rinse and hang out the washing.

Tonight’s meal was a real find. Vietnamese. Some of the best food I’ve ever had. We had earlier gone into the ‘Office du Tourisme’ to ask if there was an Italian restaurant. This is akin to asking for free champagne, the way to the Brothel or sex in the car park. The look of incredulity was palpable, why on earth would there be an Italian restaurant in France when they have french restaurants? An answer was that of course we could have a pizza, but that was it. The Vietnamese restaurant, we found ourselves. If you are ever in Alencon, go there. In fact it is worth going to Alencon just for this restaurant.

Tomorrow is Chartes, home to one of the best Gothic Cathedrals in Europe. I remember a rather wine soaked evening there several years ago with Ann. Happy days.

A bientot!

Day 3 Beauvoir to Mayenne

Day 3

Morning sneaks in the back door quietly, no fanfare, no red sky in the morning as the sun hides behind cloud. Breakfast calls and we are greeted with more than a faint whiff of marijuana in the bud. The owner looks like an old hippy from the 60’s and it seems he is keeping up old habits. Just to make sure he is in touch with his roots, he is wearing an orange flowery tie dye shirt.

Across the road from the hotel is a handy boulangerie where we stock up on quiche and baguette. This is not very adventurous of us, and lacks imagination, but we are on bikes and after the first 20 miles this is just what we will want. And so we set off under grey but dry skies. The road to Louvigne is again cycling paradise. We stop here for food, coffee and a couple of pictures.

We stop outside a cafe and I reach into the bar bag for my wallet and see that it is not there. It is always there, it should always be there. That is its place. Nowhere else. This is because I don’t want to spend time looking for it and also because I often leave things behind. But it is not there. I stare at the place where it should be, willing it to appear but it does not. The map is there, the iphone is there, the wallet is not. Adrelanine shoots through me as I consider that the wallet is in the Boulangerie in Beauvoir. Perhaps a taxi back? Will it still be there? Has a Frenchman eaten it (don’t laugh, they eat everything here). In just a few seconds I go through my options: Taxi or muddle through without it. Thats it, thats my options. I’m just a tad below the panic setting. Where is the nearest British Consulate? Am I insured. Am I about to sh*t myself? Do I want to cycle two hours the way we just came? The answer to the last three are yes, nearly and f*ck off.

Boulangerie? Where I bought the quiche? Where is the quiche? Thats not in the bar bag either. Now we are going to starve. No wallet, no quiche. Things are getting worse. Sean just stands there saying nothing. This is exactly the correct thing to do. No ‘helpful’ comments like “where did you last see it?”. I guess he intuitively knows that things could get rough very soon.

Quiche? Maybe it is in one of the panniers? It is!! On top of the wallet!! The adrenaline surging around my system has now resulted in hunger pains that would put childbirth in the shade for discomfort levels. I’d rather catch my scrotum in a revolving door than go through that again. So, without any more fuss, we slip into the cafe for food.

At the next table is sat another cyclist as it turns out. He is not on his bike today, just popped in for lunch. We learn that he has cycled all three routes up Mont Ventoux in one day. Chapeau! As we leave, he comes outside to see the bikes, and shows real interest. As he wanders back up to his car, I can’t help but notice he is built like a whippet rather than the British Bulldog I resemble. Perhaps I should put that croissant down.

The panniers on the bike weigh about 16 pounds. Thats a small dog or three bags of potatoes, or a large Philps pasty. The extra weight is just dandy going downhill although braking too quickly induces a bit of a wobble. Going up hill is different. Today on our way to Mayenne, we meet one or two slopes which in Cornwall would count as a hill, or ‘les montees’ as they call them here. I call them something else.

We stop again at a town called Garron for coffee and quiche. Upon parking the bikes, Sean looks for his wallet. However, it is not in the bar bag where it should be. It is always in my bar bag for all the reasons mentioned above. This time it is not there. Taxi? Two hours cycling back? I say nothing because that is the correct thing to do. No helpful comments like “where did you last see it?” I value keeping my scrotum where it is rather then being nailed to the nearby church door.
We pop inside and make our order, then I have to unload the handlebar bag again. A portly older frenchman is admiring the bike and panniers, his verdict? They are ‘impermeable’. As I rummage around in them, another younger more wiry, and bald, chap is smoking a cigarette, turns to me and says “Shitty weather for it” in what sounded like a Yorkshire accent. It is and he says he lives here. “Quiet” he says. This is a description not a command. the shittiness referred to is the rain that has started. ‘Just a shower’ I think and pop inside for coffee.

Garron is about 22 kms from Mayenne. No problem. The ‘shower’ thinks its no problem as well and follows us all the way. The ‘shower’ looks and feels like ‘rain’ to me. The road kicks up spray from passing cars, which are thankfully few in number. The tyres are as grippy as baby’s hand in butter and only half as predictable. Brakes, well they would be nice to have available. In this weather 22 kms might as well be 22 light years. We finally get to Mayenne alive. And wet.

Food.

Mayenne is closed. There is a lovely river in the middle of town. There are no cafes, bars, restaurants or anything at all beside the river. There are no tourists, no entertainment and what looks like no hope. There is a duck, who incidentally is loving the weather. It could be pretty here. Every second shop is for sale or boarded up. Those that remain should be boarded up. There are no immigrants to blame it on either. This is what is known to economists as ‘creative destruction’, when capitalism realises there is no money to be made and moves on leaving businesses to crumble and bonhomie to dust. Except it is too damp for dust. So, just ‘crud’ really. Redruth by comparison is a thriving metropolis of merriment; filled with peace, love, pasties and harmony.

I might have just gone overboard with that last comment.

We do find a good place to eat and to reinforce the feeling of isolation from tourism and its money, there is no menu in English, or anyone who can (or is willing) to speak it. This is not a problem as I can get by. I engage the waitress in not only ordering, but in discussing the finer points of french history, art and literature. I impress her with knowledge regarding ‘Les philosophes’, Jean Jacques Rousseau and the artists of the ‘rive gauche’. Then I wake up and order chips.

Not really. I order a tartin de foie de volialles followed by Gros Pommes ‘La Paysanne’. Sean goes for ‘trois saumon’ and an escalope de veau a la carbonara. In other words, chicken liver pate, potatoes in a creamy sauce with lardons and chicken; salmon and calf meat and pasta. But it sounds and tastes so much better in French. It really does. It is really really good.

Unlike the rain which is still falling. It is July?

Tomorrow is a rest day of 37 miles to Alencon.

bon nuits mes enfants.

Day 2 St Brieuc to Beauvoir

Day 2 St Brieuc to Beauvoir

As consciousness slowly returns, the sound of a garden hose, set to drizzle mode, plays softly against the glass. Surely, there is no one cleaning windows at this time of the morning? Of course, from the warmth and security of my bed, I am distanced from the sound of cold water and its full meaning. Nonetheless, as sleep gives way, the rain gently falls outside. Heaven’s tears are falling to wash away the sins of St. Brieuc into its gutters and drains so that the citizens can face afresh the day without reproach.

There are not enough tears in heaven to wash away our sins though. We’ll just muddle through. Just in case I salute the many wayside Crucifixes and Virgin Mary statues that stand at the village boundaries.

We leave St Brieuc heading for Beauvoir and Mont St Michel. the original plan is to go via Dinan, however we decide to ignore the garmin and use the maps. The small white roads look more inviting and indeed prove to be so. First stop is at a charming small town called Lamballe. it has a proper square adorned with what we would call tudor or elizabethan timber beamed houses but for obvious reasons the French would not. As we enter the square through a narrow street, I get an overwhelming, and fittingly, feeling of deja vu so strong that I can almost smell the croissants of three decades ago eaten in a very similar square. Perhaps I have been here before with Ann during our motorcycle tour. We stop at a cafe for, well, coffee and a baguette. Madame takes our order and then pops over to the boulangerie, As we sit at the window watching the french world meander through the square, madame returns with two large baguettes under her arm. I have seen this many, many times before. Freshly baked baguette is a religion here, except there is no official priesthood or buggery. Half a ham and cheese ‘snackette’ and two black coffees later, we set off across country.

French courtesy to cyclists is alive and well, supported by cycle paths through towns and villages. Quite a few give a beep and a wave and a thumbs up as they pass. They give us room, they don’t rev their engines trying to squeeze past, nobody winds down a window to shout ‘wanker’ at us. There is often very little traffic. In fact, except in towns there is no traffic, just occasionally the odd car or tractor, and it is very occasionally. Each time I cycle here it saddens me to think of our own attitudes in the UK. Things could be different.

Feeling peckish, again, we pull over at the side of the road near the driveway entrance to a well kept house way out in the countryside. There is only the sound of birds and trees in the wind. Across the fields rises the spire of the church of the small village of Plevenen. Golden corn fields ripple in the wind, swallows dance and sing encouragement, no one farts*. We pull out the uneaten half of our yard long baguette when Monsieur from the house calls over and offers us seats. He has the ruddy complexion of a farmer and the portliness of a lover of pies and ale, or should that be vin and quiche. We are only too to happy to join him. He has a triple garage, a man cave extraordinaire. And so we sit with him eating and chatting. Madame comes outside to see whats going on and joins in. Soon, the two daughters come out as well, probably just to see who is mad enough to be cycling to Paris. The house itself comes with what looks like an acre or two of garden, four bedrooms and of course the ‘garage’. I note a hand written ‘A Vendre’ sign, and so I ask if the house is actually for sale. It is and for the princely sum of only 160,000 euros. A bargain, if you happen to have that under your mattress. We wave goodbye and move on down the road. So far the French have been very, very friendly, even to us English. Perhaps it is the bikes?

After a few more miles, we have to have more food. It is amazing just how hungry one gets. Knowing how sparse services can be, we stop in Languenan. It is about the size of Praze an Beeble. One church, one bar tabac with adjoining ‘corner’ shop, three cats, a one legged dog and some horse poo. No pub. In fact there are no pubs in France at all of course. I don’t know why we have them across the channel. One theory is that the french are too busy at home at lunchtime making ‘lurve’ to their wives and mistresses and thus do not have time to go to the pub. Anyway, we stop at the bar tabac order coffee and buy food in the shop. This consists of ‘gallette breton’ (buttery biscuits), bananas and a pack of artificial plastic uncooked sausages. Delicious.

Suitably victualled, we head for the coast. The wind picks up from the west, the sunshines and we finally reach the town of Le Vivier sur Mer. Mont St Michel is still 32 kms away, but as we turn left at the coast the tail wind soon gets us cruising at over 20-23 miles an hour without working hard. In the distance the spire of the Mont rises above the fields and trees. The scenery now flashes by in the early evening sunshine, the last few miles fly by. It is some of the best cycling one can ever do.

Dodging a tractor with an overhanging load that could take one’s head off, we swing around to Beauvoir, over the bridge of the river Cousnon, to the Hotel. This is a gothic structure, run by old hippies right on the river’s edge.

Food, then a walk to see Le Mont, watch a sunset from the big bedroom window, then a short plan with the maps for tomorrow’s route. Now sleep. Another 140 kms today. perfect.

Bon Nuit mes enfants.
* for those of you with middle class sensibilities, you may ignore this. For those of you who have eaten energy gels, then you know what I mean.

Roscoff to St Brieuc Day 1

Everywhere is grim in the rain. I suspect ‘Sun City’ and its wall to wall blue skies would resemble Grimsby on a wet winter night in February in the rain. I wager even Las Vegas would lose a little of its lustre, Antibes its joie de vivre and Malaga would be misery incarnate. Roscoff offers grey stone walls and seagulls in three part disharmony in the early morning drizzle. I thought Fort William laid claim to wettest town in Northern Europe. It has a serious rival this morning in France. That all being said, we are used to this and shrug off the damp quicker than a Scotsman forgets his wallet in a restaurant.

We set off against a headwind towards Morlaix. We are wearing the high viz jackets that were nearly left at the Copthorne in Plymouth. Sean had bought lights and now had to fit them because the light was as dull as bowl of gruel and only half as useful. Light like this merely hangs around in damp patches, cloying, dismal and unapologetically surly. We have nearly 80 miles of this to go and so, with stiff uppers hardly quivering, we tweaked the nose of adversity. It could be worse. Possibly.

it is 20 miles to Morlaix, and the road bends and sweeps through the Brittany countryside to then meet the Morlaix estuary. As we enter the town I try to take a drink from the bottle, but while trying to replace it back in its cage it slips out of my fingers, bounces against the frame and into the road. This induces mild panic because I’d rather lose my virginity to a rum soaked docker than lose a vital piece of equipment. Thus spooked, I stop at the side of the road whereupon the panniers decide to shift their centre of gravity in such a manner as to induce what is known as an ‘unplanned dismount’. There is blood. Just a tiny bit on the end of a finger. There is a muttered expletive which rhymes with ‘punt’.

This being Sunday, and as as you know in France when out cycling every day seems like Sunday in the countryside, we wisely stop at a boulangerie to buy quiche and ham and cheese baguettes, served by a very pretty shop assistant (says Sean) for later on the road. We also need lunch. Morlaix thinks otherwise and is closed save for this one Boulangerie. And yet, the God of cycling smiles as we find a super little cafe. A portion of frites and Tunisian style quiche later we are happy bunnies. Even happier still is Sean who is taken with the doe eyed pretty madame who makes the quiche while we wait.

We leave Morlaix while trying to follow the Garmin’s directions. As all you computer buffs know there is a maxim that says ‘shit in, shit out’ meaning that even the best technology in the world is open to abuse from f*ckwit human input and interpretation. So climbing a hill which cobbled, slippery and very very steep, we realise we have come the wrong way and so have to descend. This could have been an ‘issue’, but again adversity gets its nose punched and we continue towards Giungamp and St Brieuc. We have to stop in a very pretty riverside village called Belle Isle sur Terre for coffee and quiche. We stop again in Guingamp for baguette. Cycling makes you bleddy hungry, I could eat three pasties on the road.

Thankfully the weather clears up in the afternoon and we are treated to blue skies and warm sunshine. I’m so happy I could dance barefoot in freshly laid cow pats. After 120 kms (we are in France) we arrive in St Brieuc (you don’t pronounce the ‘c’ we learn, to my mind why put it there then?). Still hungry we find the only restaurant open, really this is not an exaggeration. This France, this is Sunday. I kill the cow myself, clean it’s bottom and garnish its entrails in garlic. The beer disappears faster than car saleman’s promise. Sleep, perchance to dream. Tomorrow is another 120 kms to Mont St Michel.

I hear its quite nice.

Facebook does not like video uploads in France for some reason, and so we wrestle with technicalities. Ho Hum.

Redruth.

Jewel of the West, Pearl of the Orient (if you are in St Just) and darker than the blackest hole of Calcutta’s fetid sewer. However, there is a light to guide the weary traveller and the foot sore pilgrim. The station cafe serves a bacon sandwich the likes of which would turn an orthodox Jew into a slabbering, salivating apostate quicker than George Osborne shouts ‘welfare cuts’. So, suitably loaded with pork based victuals, we await the 1023 to Paddington.

Loading two bikes should not present too many problems.

Loading two heavily laden bikes with the handling characteristics of a hysterical toddler with ADHD and a caffeine habit, is another matter. We are in danger of holding up the train and thus causing First Great Western’s timetable to go into meltdown. The ‘Dispatch Team’ (one bloke with a white paddle, a grievance and a whistle) begin to wobble, fearing for his job no doubt if FGW’s management learn of late departures. And they will, because they are watching. There is a bloke in an office in Bristol sitting at a bank of screens monitoring every train dispatch from every corner of FGWs system. He saw us getting on at Redruth and with finger hovering over the ‘fire’ button of his weapon system, was ready for any tardiness. Luckily for us he dropped his cheese butty just as the train was leaving and so, momentarily distracted, we escaped his wrath. He has a calendar on his desk, but it only has one year: 1984.

The trip up to Plymouth was gloriously uneventful, if slow. I believe there are such things as ‘high speed trains’ up country. I believe there is discussion about building more high speed lines to connect the metropolis of London to ‘sorted’ Mancunia via Brummegen. I will also believe in fairies if it ever takes less than two and half hours from Penzance to Plymouth on the ‘drekly’ line. Never mind. I suspect that if a Cornishman does anything quickly it’s only to rubbish the quality of a Devonian cream tea.

Did I say it was raining in Redruth when we left? Mind you, you could have guessed it really. This is the default meteorological condition in Fore Street. There could be sunshine and tea treats in St Ives but the glowering granite bank of Carn Brea gathers the clouds up on its shoulders like little children who then need a pee over Camborne and Redruth. Anyway, those clouds followed us to Plymouth so that we completed the journey in liquid form. At one point on the train I heard children, which prompted a flash back to a train to Preston and poo. Not my poo of course. However, and to our immense relief, these children were well trained. I did not even smell a fart.

The Copthorne is our first hotel of many and is only a short 5 minute bike ride from the Station. And so to rest, to check last minute equipment needs. Note to cyclists: you know what ‘butt cream’ is for but refrain from asking your companion if they have their butt cream while walking into the corridor of a hotel in earshot of the cleaning staff. They might get the wrong impression and may not be able to sleep at night.

 

0700: A seagull awakes me, singing like cat trying a gregorian chant at 78 rpm•. Its friend joins in. Otherwise it is very quiet considering we are in the city centre. I can just about hear the gentle hum of tyre on tarmac as the odd car drives by. Only just. The hotel is next to a Sainsbury’s car park and I would expect a cacophony, but no. Plymouth is as quiet as a mid week church. There is a fan in the ceiling that has been on all night. Reminds me of the opening scene in Apocalypse Now but without the drinking, underpants and sweat. It, too, hums gently as the blades travel in a weary circle above our heads. The next sound I hear is an extended fart in what I think is in the key of A sharp major, a bit like a trombone tuning up. it should really be accompanied by a clash of cymbals. Sean sleeps the sleep of the contented.

Today we head for France. The ferry leaves at 1500 from what I believe used to be Millbay Docks. I think the area is being ‘gentrified’, a euphemism for cleaning out working people whose only possessions are pots for pissing in and replacing them with slightly more wealthy white collar working people who have two pots for pissing in, both of which were financed by Northern Rock or RBS and are in negative equity, and if interest rates rise would need to be sold. You would then see pissing pots being sold in the pannier market for ‘affordable’ prices to Rich London Plutocrats who think Millbay would be a great place to base their mistresses. Thus the cycle of prostitution in Millbay would be complete. Plymouthian streetwalkers being replaced by the uber rich’s tarts in fur. This is a metaphor for modern Britain; we replace long established, if old fashioned, dirty work with nouveau riche foreign parvenues providing services. The only difference is a thin veneer of respectability and Russian blood money. I could of course be making this up, but we’ll see.

Breakfast will be big. A plate the size of the Harvest Moon. I ordered free range corn fed chicken eggs; freshly cured, smoked pig; croissants; flatulence free beans, coffee in a bucket and fifi trixie-belle to serve it.

The ship is the ‘Armorique’ which in Breton means “of the coast”. I’d rather it remains ‘of the sea’ as in my experience ships and coasts make uneasy bedfellows, a bit like a turd and your custard: to be kept separate. The captain, I’m assured, is not Italian and always keeps the bow doors shut. See what I did there? Two oblique Maritime disaster references for the price of one. Mind you the Armorique, when launched, was originally named differently. If you look closely at the present name on the stern, the blue letters on a white background ‘Armorique’, one can see a faint trace of the old name: ‘Le Titanic’. Sense of humour, the French. There is a fake iceberg anchored off Drake’s Island just for effect. It is made of the frozen tears of Plymouthians’ dashed hopes and regrets they were not born in Kernow, after all a ‘Dewdney’ is not a ‘Philps’. Anyway, the sailing is at 1500, so we’d better be ready. Bon Voyage!

*sigh, I guess I have to explain to the ‘youth’ that 78 refers to the speed of vinyl, or was it hard plastic like bacolite, record turntables.

 

“Isn’t it nice to be cycling without having to wear our wet weather gear”.

The morning sunshine was indeed warm in Plymouth as we made our way among the throng on Armada way towards the Post Office. The first task was to pick up Euros before another visit to Evans cycles for last minute ‘stuff’.

Yes, it was good not to have to wear the high viz jackets. Nicer still would be if we had them with us. Before leaving the hotel room we had both looked around just in case we left anything behind. I even remarked that this was something I am wont to do. Satisfied that all kit was safely stowed we checked out. Except it wasn’t. Two wet weather high viz jackets were safe in the wardrobe rather than on our bikes. So, back I went while Sean continued to get his Euros.

Another fine mess avoided.

So, then off to Rocksalt for Breakfast. As mentioned Millbay is being gentrified and this little gem of a cafe, bistro, restaurant is a real find. There really was only one choice on the menu – the full Rocksalt English.

Two sausages, made with the finest pork from hand reared pigs.
One egg, kissed by a maiden as it was laid to ensure its nutrient value.
One slice of toast, grilled to perfection fit for a Greek God.
Tomato. Just. Heavenly.
Slice of black pudding made from the blood of the sacred cows of Valhalla.
Black striped Char grilled bacon whose smoke infused flavour knows no equal.
Beans individually picked and sorted, marinated in a rich tomato sauce for 24 hours.
A succulent almost sweet mushroom.

The salt was served in a scallop shell. To serve it, a mussel shell to scoop the grains onto the tomato.

There are better breakfasts. But none you will find this side of existence.
A couple of hours later we are sat outside the port o’ call cafe with a mug of tea overlooking Millbay harbour. The Armorique sailed into view to dock and unload. That was our cue to go. Just before we got up, a lady sat at the table next to us and enquired as to where we were going. It turns out she was also waiting for her husband. He duly arrived. The lady informed him of our plan, he turned towards us with a bit of gapless toothy grin. His hair was a grey bird’s nest. The bird was still in it. As he stood, he wobbled slightly. He was thinking of saying something but there was a disconnect between thought and speech, so he thought some more, thought about it again and obviously decided that talking was beyond him.

Right next door to the Port o’ call cafe is a pub. I think this is a clue as to this gentleman’s current predicament viz a viz talking. He mumbled something to his wife (?) and they both left. About ten feet away was a car. I somehow had the feeling that he was heading for it. Sure enough the wobble took him towards it, keys produced, both got in a drove away. I don’t think he got it out of first gear as he proceeded down Millbay road at walking pace. This was very probably a common occurrence. I fleetingly thought about undertaking my civic duty and calling the police, but in astonishment I had singularly failed to note registration number or make of car.

If you watched Spotlight this evening and a news item was about a car running amok on the pavement on West Hoe Road, you heard it here first folks.

We left for the ferry in the opposite direction, posed for pictures taken by Steve from the safety of his balcony, and queued to embark. We only had to wait for about 20 minutes in the sunshine and chatted to a couple on a tandem who were heading for the Dordogne, camping on their way down.
Compared to flying, catching a ferry is a complete joy. No security checks; no taking off of shoes, belts or pride. No orifices were searched, fingered or otherwise interfered with. No unpacking of bags, bottles or breaches of etiquette. No bomb jokes, queues or tantrums. Bikes were easily secured by helpful crew thus facilitating the early vending of chilled beer on the top deck in the sun.

So far, this cycling lark is a ‘piece of piss’, as they say in Germany. Tonight is Roscoff, arrival is about 2130 UK time. The hotel is about a 10 minute cycle maximum. So, early to bed before our Grand Depart to St Brieuc 67 miles away.

A bientot !

 

St Austell.

Nows there is a place one does not expect to mention on a journey in France.

We arrive at the Hotel Regina in Roscoff at the same time time as several cyclists and an Italian couple on a BMW motorcycle we met on the Ferry. Its strange how we all have booked the same place for this night’s sojourn. With bikes safely locked and stowed in the cellar, and accompanied by the high pitched notes of swifts on the wing, we decide to go for a short walk into ‘centre ville’ and a nightcap. At the Cafe Ty Pierre we order two ‘pressions’ and sit outside to watch the world. It is 16 degrees and very pleasant.

At the next table sit two gentlemen smoking and enjoying a drink. As I am in France I fancy a cigarette and so purchase a pack of Lucky Strikes from behind the bar. This pack of 20 should last the whole trip. The bar does not sell matches or lighters. This is like buying pasty but without the meat. I then ask the man sat at the next table for a light, and in good english he obliges. It is then he asks where we are from.

Not only does he know Cornwall, but he tells us his story of when as a young man he cycled to Cornwall and ended up in Galway. He fondly remembers St Austell and being taken in and dried off. Camping in Cornwall when it rains is hard, but the reception he got from the locals as they looked after him has left a lasting impression. So, there we have it, to hear a good word said about St Austell, you have to come to France. Oh the irony!

 

Ben and Sean’s excellent adventures

1000 miles in about 10 days in France for the `cornwall air ambulance’ see www.justgiving.com/benandsean.

what follows are ‘home thoughts from abroad’

 

Laurel and Hardy, Ant and Dec, Love and Marriage. What have they got in common? Nothing.

And that, I suspect, is what we’ve got, given our approach to packing.

Yes, that time has come when the bikes need loading, the planning is complete and loins are girded. Sean’s approach to ensuring that all necessary equipment is required, and my approach, resembles that of Scott and Amundsen. One amiable gentleman with faith in simply being British to carry the day, the other engaged in Nordic analysis and planning. We know how that all ended. The difference this time is that Scott and Amunsden are joined as a team. This ensures that success is upped by a factor of 0.01%. This random figure is about as mathematically sound a method of prediction as astrology. The fly in the ointment and what actually is in common in the above pairings, is comedy. Except for Love and Marriage, which are as funny as piles on your birthday, only less rare.

With weeks to go, I had a list of items to be taken in the panniers, cognisant of weight and utility being criteria to be applied to any item. This list I shared with Sean, in the vain hope it now appears , as planning is as Alien a concept to Sean as ‘ecumenicalism’ is to Islamic State, the only difference is that ‘The Caliphate’ can spell ‘ecumenicalism’ while ‘planning’ , I suspect is ‘what other people do’. Scott did not get to the Pole without meticulous planning, oh wait a minute…! That’s right, if I recall, a trip saved only by a good quote and gin and a typically British disregard for adequate resources, knowledge of the terrain and a map. For every Nelson, there is a Mr Bean, for every Wellington there is a Frank Spencer and for every Queen Elizabeth there is Philip. Glorious amateurism, joined with enthusiasm and a comedian’s nose for order will combine to make our own Tour de France a beacon of British civility, self delusion and misplaced grandiose ambition.

On our way to Plymouth:

Redruth.

Jewel of the West, Pearl of the Orient (if you are in St Just) and darker than the blackest hole of Calcutta’s fetid sewer. However, there is a light to guide the weary traveller and the foot sore pilgrim. The station cafe serves a bacon sandwich the likes of which would turn an orthodox Jew into a slabbering, salivating apostate quicker than George Osborne shouts ‘welfare cuts’. So, suitably loaded with pork based victuals, we await the 1023 to Paddington.

Loading two bikes should not present too many problems.

Loading two heavily laden bikes with the handling characteristics of a hysterical toddler with ADHD and a caffeine habit, is another matter. We are in danger of holding up the train and thus causing First Great Western’s timetable to go into meltdown. The ‘Dispatch Team’ (one bloke with a white paddle, a grievance and a whistle) begin to wobble, fearing for his job no doubt if FGW’s management learn of late departures. And they will, because they are watching. There is a bloke in an office in Bristol sitting at a bank of screens monitoring every train dispatch from every corner of FGWs system. He saw us getting on at Redruth and with finger hovering over the ‘fire’ button of his weapon system, was ready for any tardiness. Luckily for us he dropped his cheese butty just as the train was leaving and so, momentarily distracted, we escaped his wrath. He has a calendar on his desk, but it only has one year: 1984.

The trip up to Plymouth was gloriously uneventful, if slow. I believe there are such things as ‘high speed trains’ up country. I believe there is discussion about building more high speed lines to connect the metropolis of London to ‘sorted’ Mancunia via Brummegen. I will also believe in fairies if it ever takes less than two and half hours from Penzance to Plymouth on the ‘drekly’ line. Never mind. I suspect that if a Cornishman does anything quickly it’s only to rubbish the quality of a Devonian cream tea.

Did I say it was raining in Redruth when we left? Mind you, you could have guessed it really. This is the default meteorological condition in Fore Street. There could be sunshine and tea treats in St Ives but the glowering granite bank of Carn Brea gathers the clouds up on its shoulders like little children who then need a pee over Camborne and Redruth. Anyway, those clouds followed us to Plymouth so that we completed the journey in liquid form. At one point on the train I heard children, which prompted a flash back to a train to Preston and poo. Not my poo of course. However, and to our immense relief, these children were well trained. I did not even smell a fart.

The Copthorne is our first hotel of many and is only a short 5 minute bike ride from the Station. And so to rest, to check last minute equipment needs. Note to cyclists: you know what ‘butt cream’ is for but refrain from asking your companion if they have their butt cream while walking into the corridor of a hotel in earshot of the cleaning staff. They might get the wrong impression and may not be able to sleep at night.

 

Ferry at three.

0700: A seagull awakes me, singing like cat trying a gregorian chant at 78 rpm•. Its friend joins in. Otherwise it is very quiet considering we are in the city centre. I can just about hear the gentle hum of tyre on tarmac as the odd car drives by. Only just. The hotel is next to a Sainsbury’s car park and I would expect a cacophony, but no. Plymouth is as quiet as a mid week church. There is a fan in the ceiling that has been on all night. Reminds me of the opening scene in Apocalypse Now but without the drinking, underpants and sweat. It, too, hums gently as the blades travel in a weary circle above our heads. The next sound I hear is an extended fart in what I think is in the key of A sharp major, a bit like a trombone tuning up. it should really be accompanied by a clash of cymbals. Sean sleeps the sleep of the contented.

Today we head for France. The ferry leaves at 1500 from what I believe used to be Millbay Docks. I think the area is being ‘gentrified’, a euphemism for cleaning out working people whose only possessions are pots for pissing in and replacing them with slightly more wealthy white collar working people who have two pots for pissing in, both of which were financed by Northern Rock or RBS and are in negative equity, and if interest rates rise would need to be sold. You would then see pissing pots being sold in the pannier market for ‘affordable’ prices to Rich London Plutocrats who think Millbay would be a great place to base their mistresses. Thus the cycle of prostitution in Millbay would be complete. Plymouthian streetwalkers being replaced by the uber rich’s tarts in fur. This is a metaphor for modern Britain; we replace long established, if old fashioned, dirty work with nouveau riche foreign parvenues providing services. The only difference is a thin veneer of respectability and Russian blood money. I could of course be making this up, but we’ll see.

Breakfast will be big. A plate the size of the Harvest Moon. I ordered free range corn fed chicken eggs; freshly cured, smoked pig; croissants; flatulence free beans, coffee in a bucket and fifi trixie-belle to serve it.

The ship is the ‘Armorique’ which in Breton means “of the coast”. I’d rather it remains ‘of the sea’ as in my experience ships and coasts make uneasy bedfellows, a bit like a turd and your custard: to be kept separate. The captain, I’m assured, is not Italian and always keeps the bow doors shut. See what I did there? Two oblique Maritime disaster references for the price of one. Mind you the Armorique, when launched, was originally named differently. If you look closely at the present name on the stern, the blue letters on a white background ‘Armorique’, one can see a faint trace of the old name: ‘Le Titanic’. Sense of humour, the French. There is a fake iceberg anchored off Drake’s Island just for effect. It is made of the frozen tears of Plymouthians’ dashed hopes and regrets they were not born in Kernow, after all a ‘Dewdney’ is not a ‘Philps’. Anyway, the sailing is at 1500, so we’d better be ready. Bon Voyage!

*sigh, I guess I have to explain to the ‘youth’ that 78 refers to the speed of vinyl, or was it hard plastic like bacolite, record turntables.

 

 

 

The Black Horse

The Black Horse is a pub in Preston, dates from 1898, which is proper aged in old money. It calls itself a Hotel which explains the sumptuous decor. I’m sitting in a side room, a snug, on green chesterfield leather benches. The dark wood and the art nouveau decorations on the mirrors have not given way to any modern embellishments since the invention of the electric light bulb. The place looks like it should be lit by gas light, and from where I’m sitting, this dark corner should have a couple of tarts in billowing frock dresses plying their trade. The floor is tiled mosaic around the bar, and carpeted otherwise in a deep red and black design, so as to soak up the various stains from liquids spilled ancient and modern, whether emanating from bodily functions or from the pint glasses. The juke box plays Tom Jones and then the Damned. There is no television. The only sounds, apart from Tom warbling his best, is early evening chat, the swinging of the pub doors open and closed and the odd fruity comment in an accent so thick you could use it for sound proofing. The bar is built of green and cream ceramic tiles and is bowed out in shape, decorated with what looks like the heads of greek gods. The top is of course proper old wood. Outside the building is stone and red brick. There is a glass fronted monstrosity of a Wetherspoons just down the road that looks like a modern airport (a small Stansted?). I can’t think of anything less likely to be what the Danes call “hugli” , we might say ‘comfy’, in buildings of glass and steel, certainly not pubs.

The ales are magnificent. ‘Old Tom’, the beer not Jones, bills itself as 8.5%. That’s enough alcohol in one pint glass to render a docker momentarily impotent. I’ve settled for Cumbrian XB, about 4.5% and hence a nice little ‘warmer into the butts’ *. It does set up a dilemma though; do I have one more before dinner?**  The other ales have suitable names. I’m taken with “Ay Up” and “Old Reg”, names I gather that will not sit well with the young, trendy and pretentious. I don’t imagine offering a young filly some ‘Old Reg’ without getting a slap. Mind you, at my age, even a slap would be something.

There are no young people in here. They are sitting outside next door at cafe Nero, trying to look cool. They are all spots and attitude and would no more set foot in here than attempt to pull the pubic hairs off a pissed scaffolder. No, this is a proper old boozer, full of history and tales. Sit here long enough and I’m sure you’d get an oral history of Preston, its football club and how southerners are nancies. Thats the problem with young people, they simply have not been on the planet long enough to go beyond stories that start with “guess what I did last night” and end with “got pissed and puked in me mate’s hoody”, and with bugger all in between. Thats it, thats ‘the story’, which can only be surpassed by their friend informing the enthralled gathering that they too got pissed and had a kebab before puking in their mate’s hoody. Not to be outdone, a third will trill (because his voice has not yet dropped) that he too got pissed, had a kebab, got arrested and then puked in his mate’s hoody. None of which will be true because his mum stopped him going out on the night in question. They will all laugh at their own wit and take the piss out of the old geezer supping his ‘Old Reg’ who has medals in his drawer at home for landing at the Normandy beaches. This last is a stereotype, it could be that the old geezer was a nonce and the only medals he got was for contracting a particularly nasty sexually transmitted disease.

The bar for some reason is about 4 feet in height. You’d need to be about six feet in height to have any chance of leaning on it in a jocular ‘devil may care’ pose, which is just as well because tonight’s barmaid has taken lessons from the charm school run by miserable bastards. She reminds me of another ‘mine host’ in Cornwall, also from the North West as it happens, whose level of jocularity and bonhomie can only be rivaled by that of a cornishman whose had his pasty nicked. You’ll have more fun with bleeding piles than with this lass. The only compensatory mechanism open to her would be to display what is affectionally known in the trade as ‘huge jugs’. Sadly, it is left to the imagination the particular shape of the jugs in question as they are covered in a black jumper and a frown. I think the closest she comes to understanding what a ‘joke’ is comes to her as the yellow centre of an egg (boom boom).

Beer is of course a social lubricant. The English Pub is a treasure. The Black Horse might be a dying breed. For the good of the country, your soul and the treasury coffers, they need supporting. It should be law that pubs such as this should be free from VAT, council tax, business rates and syphilis. Apart from internecine violence, dancing naked in public and pies, the English pub is about the only thing we have to bond us as a nation. Every region has its own examples of splendour, they are all different but they are all the same. Any town that loses its “Black Horse” is a town that has lost its soul and should be razed to the ground. No matter that some do not drink alcohol, and yes alcohol can be a dangerous drug, the rest of society and indeed society as whole benefits from the existence of ale houses. Just ask an ex pat living in countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Fine though they are, they lack a certain ‘ je ne sais  quoi’ (and yes the irony of using a french phrase to express an english sentiment is not lost), a certain ‘Joie de vivre’ (ahem) only found in english ale houses. So, I’ll raise a glass to Richard in British Colombia, Roger in Auckland, Dave in Nelson, Trev in Adelaide and Haden in Slovakia….cheers boys, wish you were here! (………fades to Land of Hope and Glory in the background).

*no, this is not an allusion to some mystical and semi religious sexual practice, the butts in question can be found on a firing range, and a ‘warmer’ refers to firing off rounds of ammunition for range finding and barrel warming purposes into these butts. So there. Dirty Little minds you have.

** of course I did you muppet.

Quiet Carriage: if Only.

I sit quietly at a table with various e gadgets placed and plugged in to enable a sensible contact with the outside world, the world that is currently sweeping by the windows as I rush across the Somerset levels. This is the 10.03 from Redruth to Preston, courtesy of cross country trains run by Virgin. However, this Virgin train has had its innocence punctured and violated by the great British Public. I boarded, basking in the knowledge that my 5 hour journey to the change at Birmingham New Street was at least ameliorated by a reservation at a table seat in the ‘quiet’ carriage. And so I walk through the aisle at Redruth only to find my reserved seat already occupied by an unwashed karl marx lookalike with the body odour of a three day old dead elephant and only half the grace. I did not know what was worse, the smell or the thought of having to engage in discourse. I need not have worried about making such a choice, if indeed I had any choice. The smell attached itself to every last molecule of oxygen, ‘co- valent bonding’ I think they call it, in the carriage and so abusing the nostrils of all and sundry who dared to remain sitting. After informing me that he had not seen his family in Birmingham for over 20 years, and smelling like that I’m not surprised, karl induced in me the fear that this was my fate for the next 5 hours. However, at Truro he disembarked. His odour disembarked about 10 minutes later. I then was able to plug all gadgets and prepare….

Except a very nice woman came to sit at the table. Now, I have nothing against nice women. Some of my best friends are women (if not always nice). Usually this sort of situation is easily handled as long as the woman in question turns out be on the quieter end of the garrulous continuum. This very nice woman is also a mum. Three children all under the age of 5. Therefore the table is now festooned with fluffy toys, food, noisy ipads and tantrums. They are travelling to Brisbane. Not by train of course. I think it is going to be a long day. They are on their way to Bristol. I am on my way to hell. Things could be worse. I could be still sitting next to a collection of armpit bacteria and month old underpants which are harbouring new strains of micro-organism that only scientists and public health officials would take any interest in. The children soon settle into quiet bickering and food flicking, and have worked out a rota of toilet visits. A bottle of fizzy drinks flips onto its side near my key board, thankfully the top remained secure. The union of electrical gadgetry and drink was thus avoided. As was the the union of finger to flicked earlobe.

At Taunton, a ‘gentleman’ embarked and sat in the next seat behind the very nice lady. This is not an unusual occurrence as this is what the train was designed for. The children had decided to nod off, or to visit the toilet for the fifth time and a hush descended. This momentary lapse into reason was shattered by the chap’s phone – not a gentle ring mind you, but a ‘tune’ of satanic provenance and one I think that used to be referred to as ‘hard house’ at a volume high enough to sink my spirits faster than Gin at a hen party. In rich parody of himself, and without a shred of shame or irony he then shouted into the phone, perhaps thinking his caller was on another continent and thus needed the extra decibels. I do wish more science was taught in schools, so that f*ckwits with phones would realise that it does not really matter where the caller is. ‘Quiet’ carriage C was then informed that, yes he was “on the train” and that “yes, I’ll call when I get there”. Thank you, Mr ‘Loud Twat with phone”, I am suitably reassured.

Youngest child has just announced “I need a poo poo”. What? again? Middle child expresses sympathy with that request by yelling and screaming, possibly as a sign of solidarity. I think I need a ‘poo poo’ too, preferably at this point in a luxury bathroom in Singapore or anywhere really that is not on this train.

God Bless America. Mr “I’m from Michigan traveling with another 7 of us” has just boarded. His voice is added to the cacophony of yells, screams, belches and no doubt to come, farts. It is a truth universally acknowledged that an American, of the United States variety, is congenitally incapable of shutting the f*ck up. There is a research project waiting to be done that answers the question why american voices carry farther and for longer than any other voices on the planet. Are they brought up in particularly noisy households, say, next to airport runways? Are they ignored until they learn to whisper at a decibel level that only a Rolls Royce aero engine can equal?

Middle child “needs the toilet”.
The Buffet service is a trolley. and that is all you need to know to understand both quality of service and level of technology employed. It is of course 2015, and in reality we have people who know about coffee, even knowledgable about the roasting and preparation of the beans is a degree topic now. The trolley duly arrives and I await, and can only just contain the excitement at the culinary offerings on view. Contain myself I must, because the coffee has run out. And, to reinforce the ‘traditional’ experience last seen during the steam era, the chap is using a bag and a pencil to work out the change required to customers. I would offer the calculator on my iphone but I fear he has not been sent on the requisite training course in ‘non digital basic numeracy’, by that I mean doing sums without counting on your fingers. Virgin’s managerial system has probably not carried out the risk assessment to allow computer based arithmetic loose on its staff.

We leave Bristol and nice mum with kids leave, to be replaced by other “people”, my misanthropy is reaching levels not seen since the rise of the third reich. I have a solution. Unfortunately I am not in a position to implement it and it is quite possibly illegal and immoral, or both. My table now hosts Laptop computers, numbering three. Two of which are the size of a small house in Bedford and only half as pretty. At least they are silent.

I need the toilet.

…and just in time it arrives. Birmingham New Street.

I have to change trains here. So, off I trot to find the connection. Due to refurbishment, half of the station seems to be a building site. Men in hard hats vie with ladies with hard faces as I wind through the melee that is the main concourse. My train is not yet listed on the departures board, and so I have about 50 minutes to entertain myself with guessing which of the plethora of platforms my train will leave from. I’m not even sure where my train is heading, Glasgow? Edinburgh? Oblivion? Main city centre railways stations always provide ample people watching opportunities, and the people passing through Brum certainly provide a spectacle. You can imagine the assorted pulchritude of humanity in various states of, for some, undress…is it summer here? A very short skirt wafts by, barely covering legs leading to heaven. A workman nearly loses his hard hat as he swivels his eyeballs to catch sight. I hope the health and safety risk assessment has covered such eventualities. The Great British workman should have only limited exposure to young fillies, less they drop their spanners, their guard or their manners.

I pop into M and S (they get everywhere) for some water and, god knows why, a packet of falafels which I think will do me good. They don’t. They are as tasty as the soles of dried out combat boots after a sandstorm. They also look like sheep’s testicles dipped in breadcrumbs. I actually think the testicles would have been better.

I need the toilet. really. But the buggers of Birmingham want to charge me 30p for a pee. I think, ah yes just like Plymouth where you get charged on the concourse but it is free on the platform. I do not have 30p in change so the platform it is. Except that on the platform the sign for the toilets sends you back up to the concourse. Perhaps they need the money to buy hard hats. So, I piss on the tracks instead. No one is watching and so no one gets arrested.

The departure board informs me that the train I need is the Edinburgh train. The other destinations read either like football teams I’ve heard about on the telly or the titles of gritty northern novels. The train grinds slowly out of New Street towards places like Crewe and Warrington where a bloody great Unilever factory lords it over the railway platforms in its guise of an industrial cathedral to capitalism.

I am joined at my table by two ladies who remind me of the sisters in the Simpsons, Patty and Selma? You know the ones, all fags and sarcasm. These two were perhaps the inspiration except we’re not in the US. Nonetheless they have gruff, deep voices, skins of an alligator after too much sun and cigarettes, and hopefully a chippy northern attitude. They must be sisters, the same mold was used to fashion the crags on their faces, only the hair colour differs. They are even wearing matching pink, red and white stripey tops. It is a joy to listen to them moaning about a young lad whose music is too loud, oh and the weather which is now turning dishwater grey after a lovely sunny day.

Please God, let it be Preston soon.

Sustainability – what can a nurse do?

Sustainability – what can a nurse do?

 

This appears to be a common question, perhaps indicating that the debate has moved on from questioning the scientific basis for both climate change and the data around environmental damage caused by human activities such as ocean acidification. These are of course global issues which can make one feel powerless. This need not be so.

 

In June 2015, The Lancet argued:

 

“tackling climate change could be the greatest health opportunity of the 21st century”

 

If this is so, then nurses could play an important role in both climate change and health.

 

This report followed on from Pope Francis’s encyclical ‘Laudato Si  – care for our common home’.

The National Health Service Sustainable Development Unit (NHS SDU) welcomed the Lancet’s publication and argued that:

 

“The health sector can play a real role in making sure that its activities promote lower carbon and a more resilient infrastructure. This holds true in relation to every part of the sector including travel and transport systems, in relation to building infrastructure and through the procurement of products and services”.

 

Stefi Barna et al (2012) set out what nurses need to know about climate change and elsewhere I (Goodman 2013) challenge nurses in the NHS to act on climate change and suggests ways of thinking to do so. The NHS SDU is a great resource to support clinicians in their attempts to make the NHS responsive to sustainability and climate change issues.

 

This sets the context for nurses, but what can the nurse actually do. First of all we could consider those sectors of the health service in which that the SDU outline action can take place and ask what roles nurses can play, if at all in each.

 

A start for the nurse would be to consider what level they can work at:

 

 

 

  1. On a personal level:

 

  • Understand the facts: for example, learn what ‘carbon footprint’ means and what your personal footprint is. Access the resources published by The Lancet and the National Health Service Sustainable Development Unit. Access the literature on the subject. Understand the social political and ecological determinants of health.
  • Reflect on your values and assumptions about what the good life means on this planet. Consider the effects of consumerism, materialism and individualism on the quality of human relationships and our relationship to nature. Consider if modern culture is sustainable in its current form.
  • Eat better: e.g. reduce your intake of red meats; perhaps try to cut out/down on processed/packaged foods; shop for locally and seasonally produced foods.
  • Drink better: Consider your use of bottled water. See the ‘Story of Stuff’
  • Move better: g. use public transport walk more, reduce your use of the car, buy a bicycle (called ‘active transport’).
  • Communicate better: make full use of digital technologies.

 

  1. On an organisational level:
  • Consider the core aspects of energy, travel, food, gases and drugs, waste, and medical devices .

 

  • Energy: Between 2007/08 and 2013/14the NHS carbon footprint in relation to building energy use dropped by 3.5% despite increases in activity of 13%. The decrease represents around £50m of energy costs for the NHS in England in 2013/14. Nurse action: is there a plan for your clinical area to address energy consumption? Are you involved in innovations to reduce carbon emissions and increase renewables?   Work with your organisation’s carbon reduction team (if it has one) or consider getting a carbon reduction team developed if it does not.

 

  • NHS Derbyshire Community Health Services saved more than 3,000 hours of staff travel time, 20 tonnes of carbon, and over £100,000 by using teleconferencing services. Nurse action: consider how patients and staff travel to and from services and whether it is always necessary.

 

  • Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust shows how part of the health system can lead sustainable food systems.  It serves fresh, healthy meals made with local, seasonal and organic ingredients.  Nurse Action: find out where your food comes from and what it is? Discuss nutrition and food choices with your patients.

 

  • Gases and medicines. The use of anaesthetic gases represents 5% of acute hospital CO2e emissions. These could be reduced with lower flow rates or substituted for instance moving away from nitrous oxide. Inhalers which represent 4.3% of the English health and care sector’s footprint could be replaced by a pulverised form as in Scandinavian countries. New meter dose inhalers without high environmental impact propellants could save nearly 7 million tCO2e over five years. Medicines are often a cornerstone of our health response be this through immunisations, diagnostics or therapeutic drugs. It is however sometimes more effective to prescribe physical activity, dietary changes or talking therapies.  The pharmaceutical industry is similarly keen to help reduce environmental impacts involved in the production, use and disposal of medicines so are already important partners in this journey. Nurse action: Find out about these practices if they apply to you, work with colleagues to address these issues.

 

  • Contaminated waste. The health sector produces waste in vast quantities, some of which is contaminated and needs to be separated and disposed of effectively. We hold the key to doing this effectively and  safely as well as reducing environmental impacts. Nurse action: review waste management practices in your clinical area, search the literature for new approaches to waste. Find out what the waste process is and what it costs and how it is segregated.

 

  • Medical devices. The use of multi-use or single use items, balancing the ethical sourcing and material use with decontamination and/or recycling approaches needs to be fully understood and effectively implemented to minimise both visible and hidden costs and environmental impacts.  Work with organisations such as the Infection Prevention Society on issues such as single use.

 

  • The SDU argues “The very nature of our business which is now considered unsustainable economically, environmentally and socially means that we need to focus on improving health and reduce our reliance on acute settings. The NHS Five Year Forward View is addressing some of these through the development of Vanguard sites and it would be exemplary to be able to demonstrate the benefits in environmental and social terms too”.


  1. On a national/international level:

Nurses may wish to see this as a menu of choices for tackling climate and health, but remembering always climate change and carbon emissions are only one aspect of sustainable healthcare. We have to consider the economic, social and other environmental aspects of sustainability as well. This is because social and political inequalities adversely affect the health of individuals, communities and populations.

We need to consider whether the global economic system is fair, just, equitable and is not a cause of environmental damage. There are concerns over social inequalities leading to health inequalities adversely affecting those lower down on the socio-economic scale. This takes nurses away from clinical considerations and into socio-political debates about how global governance affects human health and well being. Another Lancet commission report questions whether the current system is fit for that purpose.

 

Selby’s 10 propositions.

 

David Selby, in 2007, produced 10 propositions for education that might be useful as another framework for action:

 

  1. Confront denial (of climate change, health crises) by challenging our own base assumptions, knowledge and responses. We need to feel unease at the current situation. Nurses should reflect on the potential a very different world in which current cultural assumptions will not hold up to be true. For example, a belief in progress, that our children will have a better standard of living may not happen.

 

  1. Given the threat to human health, nurses need to address personal issues of despair, grief, loss. Once some of the facts are known, we may have to make a personal journey through challenging long cherished world views, hopes and dreams. Our perspectives may have to shift to embrace wider loss and grief issues that flow from climate change.

 

  • Shift to a holistic dynamic understanding of the relationship between humans and nature is an end in itself not a means to an end. Nurses may already have a holistic understanding of human health and approaches to care, but this goes beyond the individual to embrace the social and the natural. Health is too often reductive, i.e. it is reduced to body parts and systems existing as separate entities from other bodies and the physical environment. It is also thus individualistic, being located within a single individual’s body. Within this reductive individualised view of health people can still view themselves as healthy in a

 

 “disintegrating family, community or a destroyed or poisoned ecosystem” (Wendell Berry p89).

 

  1. Cultivate a poetic understanding alongside a rational understanding – we need to develop awe, celebration, enchantment, reverence as well as classification, prediction, evaluation and exploitation of nature. This mirrors the ongoing debate within nursing education concerning the art/science dichotomy and would provide another useful lens to address the need for scientific competence and artistic appreciation and application in nursing praxis. There needs to be space to allow this and perhaps even academic credit?

 

  1. Marginalised ‘educations’ will be important, e.g. the field of non –violence. Rather more challenging for some fields of health care such as acute hospital care but may well be core to therapeutic approaches within mental health.

 

  1. Given the heating – sustainable and emergency education need to come together. Social dislocation, hunger, environmental disaster, tribalism necessitates nursing action that can respond, e.g. global citizenship, peace education, conflict resolution, anti-discriminatory education. Health care staff may well be key professionals in dealing with emergencies and disaster management and thus education and training that explicitly addresses these skills may well be valued and developed.

 

  1. Alternative ideas of what ‘the good life’ means need exploring: Again this could be core to philosophy especially within the contexts of mental health and palliative care and living with long term or life limiting conditions.

 

  1. Rethinking notions of democracy, citizenship and sustainability could be part of the professional responsibilities of health care staff. ‘Global citizenship’ could be a core feature.

 

  1. Shift from atomistic/reductionist thinking to holistic ways of mediating reality. This means that nurses change their paradigms, their world views away from focusing on the individual as the core unit of being, to understanding that the individual cannot exist with community and nature. They are indivisible.

 

  1. Finally Selby asks: “Everyone has to understand and come to terms with the fact that we are threatening our own existence. To confront this requires a Copernican revolution in aims, structures, processes of education and perhaps in the loci of learning ... as the heating happens, education and educational institutions ... will be deeply disrupted and if unresponsive to the need for transformation, will disintegrate as people find other more relevant loci for learning what they have to learn”. Although this is written for education in general it is a challenge to nurse education. If nurse education is too focused on developing professional competencies based in a biomedical paradigm, then it is an education that will have failed the future nursing workforce, who will be passive recipients of policies and climate change rather than active in prevention and adaptation to the changes.

 

 

So what can a nurse do?

Nursing is an ethical practice and nurses are asked to address the health not just of individuals but of communities and populations. Health education, promotion and public health are core to nursing practice. Nursing organisations have accepted both environmental issues and climate change as a health threat. All health services need to save money and use resources better. Population health would improve through adopting low carbon lifestyles. Clinical leaders can assist in the transition from unsustainable health care delivery and lifestyles towards sustainable health care as they are on the ground  and would be able to see where innovations and changes could be made.

 

  • Read – widely, inform yourself.
  • Reflect – on your personal values, assumptions and beliefs.
  • Revise – current ways of working.
  • Renew – yourself, your workplace, your community.
  • Reconnect – to your family, community, your social and political networks.
  • Remember- this will not be easy.

 

 

 

Suggested reading

 

Barna, S, Goodman, B. and Mortimer, F. (2012) The health effects of climate change; what does a nurse need to know? Nurse Education Today. 32(7) pp 765-71

Goodman, B. (2013) The Role of the nurse in addressing the health effects of climate change. Nursing Standard. 27 (35) pp 49-56

 

Griffiths, J. et al (2009) The Health Practitioner’s Guide to Climate Change. Earthscan. London.

 

Lang T and Rayner G (2012) Ecological public health: the 21st century’s big idea? British Medical Journal 345:e5466 doi 10.1136/bmj.e5466

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